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Shipping is undergoing digital disruption

Shipping companies, whether major players or smaller local fleets, are embracing digital technologies for a variety of reasons. These include: reducing costs; improving efficiencies in terms of time and money savings; making shipping teams more competent; and introducing reliabilities into the corporate infrastructure.

The types of technological innovations that are shaping this transition include the use of mobile devices; improved ship to shore communication; taking advantage of the Internet of Things on-board ships; improved data collection, such as assessing weather patterns and applying big data analytics.

The connected cargo ship
The fundamental outcome of these technologies is a paradigm shift away from the idea of a cargo ship as a ‘stand-alone’ business unit and towards the concept of a fleet of ships, no matter where they are in the world, as an integrated unit. This concept is made possible through greater availability of satellite communications; the use of telemetrics; and lower costs of data storage. The business advantage is with managing the fleet and optimizing cargo transport.

The growth in communications, whether it is WiFi or 4G, is triggering advances with the concept of the ‘connected’ ship. This step change in communications allows operators to access live audio as well as video from on-board recording devices. Enhancements in communications from ship to shore also aid management in addressing issues like crew welfare.

A worker stands near a crane unloading shipping containers from a cargo ship at a port in Lianyungan...

A worker stands near a crane unloading shipping containers from a cargo ship at a port in Lianyungang
China Daily China Daily Information Corp – CDIC / Reuters

One system that has been developed for shipping is DanaosONE, which is a platform for ‘smart shipping’. DanaosONE is a business-to-business e-servicing platform that integrates with existing internal operational, safety systems and compliance policies, securely.

With the system data is held securely, with the added benefit of remote access, in Vodafone virtual cloud servers. Using the DanaosONE platform, shipping owners can design their own menus; make use of user defined dashboards; and produce electronic drawings of the ship and its cargo. One application is in enabling shipping management to follow-up the performance and statistics of their entire fleet in an integrated manner.

The use of these types of new technologies has the potential to lead to greater cooperation. This is made up of sharing corporate information and data exchanges; and it enables sharing between shipping companies; port authorities; suppliers; auditors; brokers; consultants; charters; and partners. To be truly effective this level of cooperation requires transparency and blockchain technology enables the required level of transparency, without the risk of fraud, to be established. This is expanded further in the Digital Journal article “Why shipping companies are investing in blockchain”.

A freight  train line at the port of Piraeus  outside Athens  where Chinese shipping giant Cosco con...

A freight train line at the port of Piraeus, outside Athens, where Chinese shipping giant Cosco controls two of the three container terminals, is seen after its inauguration on June 20, 2014
Louisa Gouliamaki, Pool/AFP/File

A very different form of technology is robotics. Shipping companies are deploying robots for sub-sea inspections, tasks like cleaning and for small repairs an interventions. Robots can also be used for inspections in harsh environments, for example to identify and record emissions and pollutants. An example is with OpenROV Trident, which is a tethered robot. The robot can reach depths of up to 100 meters with a maximum speed of 2 meters per second. The robot relays a live video feed back to the surface.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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