Opinion: The Future of Connected Ships


Tim Schweikert, President & CEO of GE’s Marine Solutions discusses the future for connected ships, big data and predictive analytics.

At a time when the global marine industry is impacted by market fluctuations, over supply, margin pressures and labour shortages, operators are facing increasing challenge to reduce cost and increase operational efficiency. Traditional methods have created data silos and islands of automation, making it difficult to optimise operations across a vessel or systemise across the fleet. Digital technologies such as the Industrial Internet and data analytics can offer great promise. We have all witnessed the transformation of the aviation industry, where data-driven decision making is taking the lead. Just as connected planes are making headway in the air, connected ships also can deliver great potential thanks to the predictive ability which can help improve marine operations.

The key to unlocking this digital promise is harnessing the power of Big Data. Traditionally, operations data has been confined to equipment silos used essentially in hindsight for trouble-shooting exceptions. In many cases, equipment manufacturers have managed data access. Hence, marine operators were limited in their ability to leverage respective data for informed decisions. However, breaking data silos and connecting the data to decisions can lead to a true transformation of marine operations.

Operational data from critical equipment systems can be analysed for real-time insights into vessel performance, leading to more informed decisions and enhanced productivity. Predictive analytics can help provide foresight into equipment degradation, therefore giving operators early warnings to correct problems before they occur, sometimes weeks in advance. This will enable a shift from schedule-based to condition-based maintenance.

In addition, software also can be used to retain knowledge and experience. Data-driven decisions enable consistent, objective decisions despite diversity in crew expertise. The usual performance variances from shift-to-shift or crew-to-crew will be minimised and enterprise-wide operations will be more predictable.

The opportunity is real — after all, 90% of world trade is transported over water. This is why forward-looking marine companies are launching strategic initiatives for advanced software analytics to harness the power of data and get insights to enhance operations.

With the fast-paced changes of globally connected economies and shifting regional opportunities, marine operators need to transform themselves to be efficient and predictable. They need the ability to deploy the right resources at the right opportunity and to monitor operational performance anytime, anywhere — drawing real-time insights from operational data is a critical first step to do this. The evolution towards data-driven decisions could lead to a multitude of operational efficiency benefits and long-term competitive differentiation for marine operators.

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