Advancing Marine Operations Through Data
Mar 29, 2016
Andy McKeran

In chaos theory, it is said that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Sahara could cause a tsunami on the other side of the world; some have attributed this to the supposed fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Today, thanks to the Internet, connectivity has become possible and “visible,” dramatically changing the way that we live and the world that we live in.

For consumer industries, new technologies and gadgets are appearing every day—from virtual reality headsets to connected homes and connected cars. However, getting industries to be onboard the Industrial Internet is a complex task. In matured and risk-averse industries such as marine, the skills, infrastructure and culture are all wedded to a certain way of working. A precedent for doing things the way they were makes change a daunting word.

However, in the current world where growth is hit by economic or geopolitical turmoil, the cost of carrying on as usual is too high. GE recognizes that the traditional industry has great opportunity for transformation through disruptive innovation, with data sitting at the heart.

GE’s SmartSignal* predictive analytics software is an example of such a data-driven empirical approach. It compares real-time data to a machine’s normal, predicted values and can help predict incidents up to 10 weeks before they happen. SmartSignal is OEM agnostic, meaning it can run analytics on energy assets regardless of whether it’s a GE piece of equipment. Over the past decade, it has identified tens of thousands of developing equipment problems and thousands of operational errors across industries, bringing tremendous value to our customers.

Building on our expertise across a range of high-performance industries, we are currently developing Industrial Internet solutions for marine. The marine industry is only at the dawn of its digital journey, but the future is promising. Riding a wave of transformative innovation and change, digitalization will help improve safety, reduce costs and streamline vessel and fleet performance, through data.

Harnessing data effectively

Data has been available to companies since the dawn of computing. However, our ability to analyze and use it effectively has improved dramatically in the last half decade. Not only has computing power expanded, but the growing intelligence in software to analyze data from dozens of disparate sources has also made a powerful impact. We can now harmonize data sets and provide real-time insights, accelerating data analysis that used to take analysts working from spreadsheets weeks or months, if indeed they could find a solution.

In the marine industry however, data is most commonly used for post-incident analysis, offering retrospective insights and solutions to problems once they have occurred, merely providing post-mortem analysis.

Resulting in significant dry dock costs and loss of revenues, unplanned downtime is hitting the industry hard. This issue is more prevalent as the current down cycle has put immense pressure on operators and owners to reduce cost. Today, investors no longer have the patience to wait several years for their money to deliver dividends but expect to see returns much faster.

To help address this challenge, the industry needs to embark on a digital journey to enable data-driven efficiency. Through real-time analysis of data, potential problems can be predicted before they arise. This will allow operators to fix or replace components in advance of failure, leading to reduced downtime. Moreover, it will also allow the industry to shift from prescriptive to predictive maintenance, postponing and ultimately reducing the amount of maintenance required.

Enhanced computing capability

The stream of data available to marine operators—and companies all over the world—is continually growing. In fact, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are being generated every day.

However, gaining valuable insights from data requires vast amounts of computation resource to store, harmonize and analyze the data, which in turn requires immense investment, software expertise and knowledge of the sector. Based on decades of data and experience in industry, GE employs over 1,200 software engineers to help the industry embrace the digital transformation and harness the power of data. GE has created the Predix* platform to act as a "nerve center" for software development across the industrial sector.

The Predix platform is the world’s only cloud-based solution specifically designed for industrial use. The open platform powers all of GE’s software applications and allows GE, OEMs and their customers to create applications to support specific use cases—it is a platform for open communication. Its use throughout the industry also has the ability to save tremendous amounts of money, as it eradicates the need to build multiple platforms across companies.

To help enhance its use throughout the sector, GE has also created a Digital Alliance Program to train and certify its developers and build industrial applications, which can be implemented through Predix. The alliance will connect systems integrators, telecommunications service providers, independent software vendors, technology providers and resellers through the technology and digital industrial expertise of GE.

Data is the new Intellectual Property (IP)

However, one crucial challenge that the industry must address before data can reach its full potential is the continued collection of data in silos. Currently, OEMs’ and vessel operators, and system developers possess their own respective data. Reluctance of data sharing and ambiguity in ownership have laid road blocks on the digital journey.

The benefit of consolidating data can be huge. By consolidating data and assessing all of these elements together on one platform, vessel operators can gain the insight needed to inform all aspects of vessel management, from design and operational efficiency through to component or system stress and repair. Here, GE does not own data. GE’s role is to run analytics on data and therefore provide valuable insights.

And, as the influence of a data-driven approach to vessel management spreads, the impact won’t just be seen across fleet operators, but throughout the industry, accelerating the pace of digitalization across the sector and encouraging increased data sharing between sector players.

It has to be said that in the world of data analytics, if you are going alone, you are going nowhere. That is why GE is collaborating with major players from across industrial sectors and why GE’s Predix platform has been designed to be open—to break down silos and demonstrate that collaboration can drive improved outcomes across industries for years to come.

* Indicates a trademark of the General Electric Company and/or its subsidiaries.

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Andy McKeran

Andy McKeran is the Marine Executive, GE's Marine Solutions. Andy started with Alstom Power in their power conversions sector and followed with a series of sales and director roles in rotating machines for Converteam. He then joined GE's Power Conversion and led leadership roles in offshore business and later in the marine segment. He is also leading the Digital initiative in GE, helping customers deploy a digitalized marine strategy.