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April 20, 2022

Voyager News, Voyager Blogs

Data, sensors and soft skills

As has regularly been observed in these pages, the next decade will be when data comes into its own as the vital differentiator between efficient, profitable shipping companies and the rest. As consultant Nick Chubb of Thetius told an Inmarsat seminar at Nor-Shipping last week; there are only two motivations in play: stay out of jail by complying with regulation and stay in business by saving money.

However tempting it might be to stop there, Chubb laid out the stark choices facing shipping but matched them with examples of what can be done when companies embrace operational change.

The lesson from history – that it always takes longer and costs more to change – is the bad news for shipping. It’s taken a decade of LNG as fuel to take a 1% share of the global fleet; long term decarbonisation tools could take 10 years to develop and another 10 to implement.

The trouble is that emissions are still rising. Thetius estimates it could cost $1.1-1.9trn to decarbonise maritime, 80-90% of which will be the cost of alternative fuels, the remainder spent on optimisation of existing fleet.

That creates an opportunity Chubb reckons to start gathering real operational data from the fleet, understand the numbers and derive fuel savings and emission reductions. Get the data on the ship and you can drive cultural change there too.

Other drivers such as the green corridor concept where much more efficient vessels trade between given ports will increase rapidly from the five proposed by 2025. Part of the process will be the ability to access green finance in order to build the vessels.

The ace up shipping’s sleeve is its vibrant start up sector, worth $11m per year to ship management and vessel operators – a figure that gone up fivefold since 1990, while patents have climbed sixfold, Chubb added.

Giving some examples, he cited Danish voyage optimisation start-up ZeroNorth which reduced carbon emissions across the Trafigura fleet by five per cent with some ship types able to save seven or even 14%. Weather routeing provider StormGeo saved 33 hours and $14,000 on a single voyage for Aurora Tankers using a recommended route based on actual weather conditions.

“Saving between five and 25% of your fuel bill is possible and quite easy to achieve; there are huge amounts of efficiency to be gained and that means significant cost savings,” he said.

Getting started can be a challenge and as Inmarsat’s Mark Callaway pointed out, the multiple stakeholders to a voyage, taking decisions based on different factors are complication which on land might be quickly solved by applying software and analytics, something shipping has been slow to grasp.

The aim appears simple: enable stakeholders to improve decision-making and you will achieve the desired effect. Whether for a fleet, a vessel, systems or equipment there is a need to understand the cost of non-compliance, he added.

Data remains the challenge since there are comparatively few sensor-equipped vessels and a combination of data silos and reluctance to share was holding back the process.

New thinking is needed and as Sindre Bornstein of start-up Yxney said, the smart thing is to leave the analytics to the specialists rather than always try and do it yourself.

“Owners are thinking about smart ways to use data to achieve targets so we try to future proof decisions going into fuel savings and new fuels. You have to take away complexity for people on vessel and understand behaviours, which gives the crew opportunity to focus on operating,” he said.

Its work in offshore is particularly competitive – with too many OSVs chasing too little work – but Bornstein says the operators use data as an advantage. “You’re on a charterer shortlist, so you can showcase vessel efficiency, it’s not ‘trust me’, it’s ‘I can show you how’”.

Nautilus Labs overcame client scepticism in what they could achieve for an LNG carrier operator, as Julia Mason explained. The company gathered data on propellor shaft performance, how much ‘boil-off’ gas was being lost from the cargo and combined this with a ‘just in time’ arrival scenario. Nautilus forecast that by optimising vessel speed, the operator could save 102 tonnes of LNG and 280 tonnes of CO2 on a nine-day voyage

“We showed the owner and they said, ‘it’s not possible’ but after two days of discussion, the master said ‘OK’ and they arrived at the port with more cargo and their lowest ever boil-off gas number,” she said.

“It’s not just about technology,” she added. “You need people with tech skills but also soft skills to explain, discuss and convince; change management in shipping is a big thing to face.”

The bigger problem can be the misalignment of incentives between owners and charterers; something which is driving more of the latter to get involved. The desire of shippers to reduce cost save carbon and achieve better ESG ratings is pushing them to pay for the installation of sensors onboard where ships are on long term charter, often sharing the results with the owner, she said.

Clearly data could be the game-changer and one which extends to operators of older ships with mixed fleets. If conversion is a cost too far, relatively low cost installation of fuel flow meters and other sensors could enable them to get started, Chubb said.

“Not more than one third of vessels are equipped with some telemetry for data collection and owners are not necessarily using it onshore; I’m surprised ships are still coming out shipyards without it,” he said. Shipyards can make it hard for owners by penalising them for changes to set specifications and data ownership can still be a battle with OEMs.

“There is a fear that this is expensive and it’s difficult to get started but when it pays back the balance starts to tip and it not always that hard.”

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