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Interview: Smarter maritime

Autonomous ships are already making waves

Part 2 of the interview with David Johansson, Director of the Marine Business Unit at SKF, explores the impact of IT in marine engineering and operations, and the longer-term shift towards autonomous shipping. As the maritime industry emerges out of a downturn, will the race for smart ships pick up speed in 2018?

Engineering at Sea: Mr. Johansson, what role are trends such as the Internet of Things and big data playing in the maritime industry?

David Johansson: More and more machines on board ships are becoming connected to both internal networks and the cloud–which in turn enables opportunities for big data in shipping. So, suddenly we have access to more information on how vessels and machinery are operated. This creates possibilities for improved operational performance today and builds a foundation for remote-controlled and autonomous ships in the long run. The technology is not far off currently but for now it’s more about effectively interpreting the data and taking actions to mitigate identified issues and risks. Information gathered on what machinery design and maintenance adjustments are required, as well as regulatory considerations, will give traction to autonomous shipping in the future. In addition, simplified access to valuable operational information is creating the opportunity for increased competitiveness, as well as a more consolidated supply chain. This will give suppliers the opportunity to become a more integrated part of operations. Transparency across the marine industry value chain could also continue to improve with big data, increasing innovation and operational performance.

How is SKF Marine reacting to autonomous and smart shipping?

In 2017, SKF established a center in Gothenburg, Sweden to drive software development for proactive maintenance and condition monitoring technology. We have organized the competencies needed for industry-tuned processes that are required to take our operations into the future. We have built a global standard for how to effectively manage condition-based maintenance in the marine industry, which is now approved by the major classification societies. A lot more will go into software and IT in the future of the maritime industry. SKF is focusing on the condition monitoring (CM) aspect of this – looking at how we can make operations as cost effective as possible for our customers by using simple processes and a stable IT infrastructure.

Completely autonomous shipping will require a level of reliability in technology and systems that has never been seen before.
David Johansson, Director of Marine Business Unit, SKF

Could you say autonomous shipping is advancing technology in other areas of the industry?

The shift towards a remote-controlled or autonomous maritime industry has already started to deliver benefits. CM technology for wider fleet installations and automated systems for maintenance tasks, such as lubrication, will have to become much more integrated in the coming years for autonomous shipping to be realized. In addition, onboard machinery systems and related components will need to be further optimized, to ensure predictable operations. Such ideas are not new but completely autonomous shipping will require a level of reliability in technology that has never been seen before. In this way, the end goal of autonomous shipping is driving technological advancements in a range of areas.

How will procedures change if an autonomous ship is to break down at sea? Could the need for manual intervention reduce in the future?

In the short term, specialist crews will certainly play an important role in carrying out maintenance onboard. But in the long term, the supply chain for emergency cases might work in a very different and more autonomous way than in the past. Many companies are already researching the use of new support systems, e.g. drones for deliveries of 3D printed spares, which could later become largely automatic. Roles for personnel will change, not overnight but step-by-step – just as in other industries preceding maritime with smart technology. It’s likely that skills will be more driven by command centers on shore, rather than on board vessels. Certain segments of the market will lead the change and show the volume markets how new technology and operational modes could be implemented.

In part one you talked about the industry emerging out of a downturn. Will 2018 be a time of stability or acceleration in shipping?

I think a combination of both. The industry itself will stabilize with mores orders for general ship types. But at the same time, we will see how innovations that entered the market during the downturn will now be applied more widely in reality. There has been a tremendous amount of hard work from companies across the marine industry value chain during the past years in order to manage the downturn. Now with an improved industry outlook, we will see their efforts take off in the wider market.

We have the largest marine exhibition coming up in September this year, (SMM 2018) and I’m certain it will be one of the most interesting expos in a long time with regards to new technologies. It will also be an opportunity for SKF to show how we are taking on the trend of smart shipping and how ship operators can benefit from this to further improve their operational performance and market competitiveness.



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