Insight: ‘Smart Ships’ Talk to ‘Smart Containers’


Smart containerships are a new generation of container ship that can potentially have a big impact on port operations, as they are able to utilise Big Data technology and communicate this data to ports and terminals. This article aims to explain what a smart container ship is and how it can be integrated into ports.

The idea of a smart containership is not new to the industry, however, industry experts are only beginning to realise the potential of this type of technology. An example is CMA CGM, which recently announced it was the first shipping line to equip one of its mega-ships with TRAXENS technology, which aims to transform smart ships into a ‘connected’ object.

Cargo tracking company Globe Tracker has also developed solutions to allow shipping containers to communicate with each other via its ‘GT Communications Units’, which can help to lower operational costs once they are implemented on board a smart ship.

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Don Miller, Director of Global Sales and Marketing at Globe Tracker, said: “In the evolution of the technology ‘Smart Ships’ talk to ‘Smart Containers’. This allows for the seamless flow of data on cargo container arrival and real time cargo status at the port. Particularly useful is temperature or CO2/O2 alert information for refrigerated containers or even Pressure and G-Force alarms from dangerous goods, high value and special cargo containers.

(Source: Globe Tracker)

“Our customers are even seeing benefits from the simple data coming from the real time loading and offloading of a container from a “Smart Ship” as this can significantly help to have leaner global supply chains and decrease logistics and operational costs.”

Rolls Royce has also made headway with the introduction of its ‘Oxbridge Concept’, which aims to enhance safety, usability and navigation aboard cargo ships. Yet, while smart ships may have multiple functionalities, the definition of a smart ship is not immediately clear. So what is a smart ship?

Captain Rahul Khanna, Global Head of Marine Risk Consulting at Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty, believes: “Vessels are becoming ever more complex, fitted with an increasing range of sensors and monitoring equipment. This is significantly increasing the amount of data available which can be used to create real-time monitoring and control systems.

“Ultimately a ‘connected smart ship’ will enable ship-owners to better manage their fleets and achieve potential operational savings through the application of digital technologies.”

Allianz previously mentioned that the functionality of Big Data aboard smart ships may lie in the use of nanotechnology through paints and other coatings which will essentially enable ships to talk to each other. This concept, together with other smart capabilities, may also provide the foundation for key interactions with container ports.

Read: Big Data and its application in ports and terminals

“There is the opportunity to develop real time ship performance models,” argues Khanna, “schedule vessels to arrive in port just-in-time for berth availability while minimising fuel consumption during the voyage, and provide operators with advance warning on potential system or component failures and order the necessary replacement parts to be delivered at the appropriate time and place.

“The ship and the port will also be able to ‘talk’ and select which cargo needs to be offloaded first and the correct place of storage.”

(Source: Accenture)

A collaborative report recently released by Lloyd’s Register, QinetiQ and the University of Southampton identified one of the technological drivers that underpin smart ship technology as being those that relate to safety, commercial and operational performance, which includes Big Data analytics, communications, sensors and robotics.

This, together with technological drivers for ship design and space, are the factors which Lloyd’s Register believe will underlie the rapid evolution in smart ship technology, which will change the industry significantly. This change is also likely to bring significant upgrades to the capabilities of global ports, but how significant will these be?

Fox Chu, Managing Director, Infrastructure and Transportation, believes: “Basically, smart ships and ports can collaborate in such areas as berth scheduling and cargo handling operations. For berth scheduling, the ocean liners and port terminals share vessel navigation data and berth operations data to minimise both vessel waiting time and berth idle time. It is called ‘economic port sync navigation’ or ‘virtual arrival.’

“For cargo handling operations, the smart ships provide on-board cargo data with the port terminals so that the port terminals can better prepare cargo handling works i.e. preparing stevedoring workers and equipment, as well as arranging in-land truckers on-time. Implementing such collaboration will have a significant ‘marketing’ effect for the ports to position themselves as ‘digitally connected ports’.”

So, the benefits of these ports could potentially be felt far and wide, not only for shippers but also for port owners if the data acquired through sensors is shared with ports. It appears that the areas where smart ships can deliver the most impact are in berth-scheduling and cargo-handling operations, where the end result will be reduced vessel-waiting times and berth-idle times.

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