Last week I attended COMPIT (International Conference on Computer Applications and Information Technology in the Maritime Industries). As usual it was a great conference to get a sense of how technology will be applied to our industry. I have attended and presented at COMPIT for some time. Here are some of my blog posts from previous COMPIT conferences:
This year seemed to be an explosion (in a good way) of hot topics that relate to the shipbuilding and shipping industry. Pretty much every type of technology we have been reading about was well represented at the conference. To be honest I am still processing a lot of the information from the presentations, papers and conversations but thought I would provide a quick summary of thoughts on various topics covered.
Challenges Regarding Implementing Technology
I do love learning about technology and the possibilities that are at, or soon to be at our fingertips. However, our industry will have some significant challenges ahead to leverage even some of the “newer” technologies and strategies. This was the essence of my presentation. We need to not be blinded by the future potential and make sure we create realistic goals and milestones to attain our vision and value to our users.
Implementing technology follows the same curve as emerging technologies: The Hype Cycle
The idea is that we get excited with all the buzz and potential of the technology that our implementation of these technologies also follows the Hype Cycle. Many companies start by attempting to boil the ocean and not by focusing on something smaller and attainable. I wrote about this phenomenon before Hype Cycle is not just for Technology.
In a presentation from Volker Bertram from DNV GL I was reminded of that fact when he showed this slide:
When talking about the challenges of implementing technology, I used the framework of creating a digital twin because all new innovations leverage large amounts of digitized information that is tied to a physical object. Therefore, it was interesting to see there were so many other papers that touched on the digital twin concept.
A number were about digital twins specifically and many more speakers referenced it in their papers/presentations. Everyone agrees that there is no consensus regarding what a digital twin in shipbuilding truly is, though this should be expected because it is also the case in every other industry.
If we ignore the discussions about the exact definition of what a digital twin is, there is definitely a noticeable trend that most companies are looking at the digital twin as their saviour. Even though I do believe that the potential is there, I caution we need to be careful to understand that it alone will not get us the benefit that we seek. I wrote about this in previous posts:
There were some good discussions revolving when the digital twin starts (can it exist before the physical object?), and if it needs all or even most of the data. Also, is real time data (ex. IoT) required? I think the greatest aspect of the digital twin is that it is getting people thinking and discussing what is needed in the future from the product or service we provide as well as the business value they plan on leveraging.
Some level of autonomous ships is absolutely in our future. There will be fully and semi-autonomous ships; however, which one will prevail in each industry segment is still uncertain.
One thing I realized is that “manned ships” can still be fully autonomous. It seems obvious now that there can be a fully autonomous ship that has people (manned) that can do tasks where people are currently more efficient at doing. For example, repairs to equipment when enroute.
My current feeling is that we should be (and in some respects are) taking the same strategy as the aerospace and automotive industries. We can make ships autonomous when they have very predictable routes and relatively low risk. Non-predictable routes and high risk ships should be less autonomous but leverage augmented information that would improve the actions taken by mariners similar to how your cars lane assist works.
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of real world trials and the amount of investment our industry is spending in this area.
There were several presentations using drones for underwater seafloor exploration as well as on the surface. I found the progression of using drones to improve safety of inspection very promising. The idea that we can eliminate deaths as well as improve effectiveness when detecting cracks and other critical structural issues on an aging vessel is awesome.
AI / Machine Learning / Big Data
This is one of the areas I think has the biggest opportunity for shipping. There were many examples of how to use the information we have available today to make our operations more efficient and make more informed decisions. This is from navigation, routing, collision avoidance, fuel consumption, weather routing and much more. With fuel consumption contributing over 25% of the overall running costs of ships, any improvement can have huge financial rewards.
It was interesting to hear the two school of thoughts of how many sensors should you add to your ship. One thought is to add as much as possible even though you will not use the data now. The other side of the spectrum is to only put the sensors that you can and will monitor to make decisions today.
My personal feeling is somewhere in the middle. Even though I understand to be “lean” on sensors the challenge is the decisions we make now we will have to live with for decades (unless we add more sensors later). However, I do not think we should be putting sensors on everything just because we can. The middle is somewhere where we can use some of our knowledge of facts and behaviours based on physics/science to only place the sensors we need. This will limit the processing of useless data, repairs, cost of sensors, etc.
VR & AR
Even though the technology has improved significantly over the past few years it will still be a while before we see compelling and seamless solutions that the majority of our industry will adopt. However, there are innovators who are getting positive results with creative thinking and some elbow grease.
Top 10 Areas of R&D Funding in Maritime Technology
There was a presentation that discussed where R&D funding is being allocated for the maritime industry. All the top 10 items were not a surprise but what was a shock was that materials development is in the top 2. I would have guessed it would be closer to the bottom.
I will have to do a bit more research on this as it is different from what I am seeing.
There are not very many conferences that focus on the maritime industry as COMPIT does successfully. It is a great place to learn what technology is on the horizon and how it is applicable to our industry.
I am not sure what my main takeaway is yet from COMPIT besides wondering what the future of shipping and shipbuilding will be. Will new materials and 3D printing totally change the game of how we design and build ships? Will the digital twin be the key for us to implement our long-time wanted “As-Built” models as well as drive the need to “sense” everything? Will a ship be a floating computer? Will we have Hyperloops that will carry our cargo and passengers decreasing the need (not eliminating) for ships?. A lot still to process.
For anyone interested in the proceedings you can download it here.