From Connected Cars To Connected Ships: The Digital Revolution Is Hitting The Shores Of The Marine Industry
May 04, 2015
Andy McKeran
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A series of impressive developments and increased involvement by high profile players has ensured connected cars are being hailed as the next great wave of innovation; whether that’s Tesla’s Autopilot or the Mercedes concept car showcased at CES this year. However, the automotive sector isn’t the only industry to be positively disrupted by the creation and adoption of new digital technologies that 15 years ago nobody thought were possible.

The marine industry has been transforming for several years and in many ways is one step ahead. Currently available digital tools are creating smart ships which are enhancing efficiencies, cutting carbon emissions and increasing productivity within the marine industry.

Advanced Control Support

It is one thing having a car that can park itself precisely and safely, but quite another having a ship which can maintain a highly accurate position when in rough waters offshore. It requires an advanced system on board to help the vessel “tame” the sea. Dynamic Positioning controls the helm of a ship, enabling a vessel to maintain a predetermined heading and position, fixed or moving. When you think of the size and weight of a ship and the conditions that it moves in, DP is far more complex, impressive and in many ways, technologically advanced, than a self-parking car. For vessel owners, DP allows the ship’s position and orientation to be safely and efficiently controlled, providing them with unprecedented flexibility and allowing much more energy efficient manoeuvres.

Operational Predictability – Data Driven Decisions

What if a car could signal a problem to you before you discovered it? What if it could talk to the local service centre itself, and help fix the problem even before it causes a breakdown? What if the service team turns up alongside your car just before it’s needed, with all the necessary parts and tools already in hand, and with all the car’s profile and historical problems fully understood? Connected cars don’t yet have predictive maintenance capabilities that are this sophisticated; few if any cars make use of on board sensors to give significant advance warning of a system failure; you just have to drop it into the workshop for its annual service and see what needs swapping out.

In the much more complex marine sector, where a company may have many vessels, at locations all over the world, the need for data intelligence and insight is crucial to making smarter, more informed decisions. To do this, owners need smart ships, and use the data from them to deliver predictive and pre-emptive insights. For example, technologies, such as GE’s SeaStream Insight* provides ship owners with a unique level of understanding into a ships’ operational state at all times. It enables the user to have ultimate confidence in the assets’ readiness for operations, giving a new level of confidence and predictability.

Furthermore, the operator benefits from the elimination of unnecessary maintenance checks, avoidance of unexpected downtime, reduction in service support costs and importantly overall reduction in operating costs. The remote monitoring capability allows the vessel to safely and securely transmit critical data to the service hub. The support team can fully access the ship even in the most remote parts of the world, and help out whenever needed.

There are even more sophisticated places where analytics data can support a marine fleet: GE Marine Mapper* (GEMM) tracks and monitors GE powered ships to provide full visibility on any given fleet equipped with GE assets, anywhere in the world. It provides market intelligence, travel history and tracks for service issues. Coupled with SeaStream* Insight’s remote monitoring and predictive capability it enables GE to access the availability of field service engineers at the earliest time possible, and helping to place spare parts and materials where the vessel will be needed ahead of demand from the operator. This tool significantly increases service responsiveness for vessel owners.

Optimising Costs

As technologies advance, they become more economically viable, but at the start of this new transformation, organisations in any industry are under severe cost pressures. The connected car market is set to create technologies that monitor driver behaviour and route patterns to improve fuel efficiencies.

Similar benefits can be found in the marine industry, where fuel accounts for a large proportion of many ships’ operating costs. It is no surprise that a digital tool has already been created to help foresee a fleet’s fuel consumption and annual operational cost through enabling ship owners to independently experiment with different configurations of the power system.

It’s the same story for GE’s SeaStream* Dynamic Positioning, which makes vessel less thirsty for fuel: its energy efficient mode is expected to deliver up to 10% in fuel savings while reducing NOx by up to 20%, depending on environmental factors and the exact operational profile. In addition, it helps vessels meeting stringent environmental standards.

Transformation has already begun

The marine industry is rapidly undergoing a digital transformation, implementing new tools to further enhance performance and deliver new efficiencies. Right now digital revolution is hitting the shore. Innovative digital tools are enabling vessel operators to make smart decisions and helping them stay competitive in today’s market.


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

Image credit: Noble Corporation

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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.