Robotics and Industry 4.0 are massive buzzwords in port operations, logistics and the wider supply chain.
Together with upcoming environmental regulations and data standardization, they form part of a series of challenges – and opportunities – for the maritime industry, ones that have the potential to make it safer, cleaner and more efficient.
Industry 4.0 is also referred to as the industrial revolution and is the popular name used to describe the drive towards automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, of which remote sensing is key.
That is where ultrasonic sensors come in, and their utilization has the potential to in the words of Deloitte, to “create new value across the supply chain” by “lowering production costs and providing critical insights into customer behaviour.”
In short, ultrasonic sensors are industrial devices that use sound waves above 20,000 Hertz (Hz), beyond the range of human hearing, to measure distance from a certain spot to a specified target object.
The smart sensor market, which includes ultrasonic sensors, is growing at approximately 19% every year, and could be worth as much as US $60 billion by 2022.
As well as accelerating the drive towards automation and Industry 4.0, ultrasonic sensors can also be used across manufacturing and the wider supply chain for numerous different purposes.
They work in a variety of logistics applications, including heavy industry and port operations. For shippers, they have a wide range of benefits, from navigation to fire and corrosion prevention.
Ultrasonic wind sensors, for example, can help ships comply with international regulations on weather data collection, such as wind speed, which captains can then use to navigate around storms.
This is an example of how ultrasonic sensors can be utilized across commercial shipping, be it in the container, bulk or passenger segment.
In the field of ship maintenance, it could also prevent steel corrosion and cracking.
‘Non-invasive Monitoring of Ships for Corrosion Using Ultrasonic Guided Waves’, a 2012 study by engineers A.G Haig, PJ Mudge and K Tuncbilek examined the viability of ultrasonic technologies for spotting the very earliest stages of corrosion.
The project looked at the use of long range, low frequency ultrasonic waves to provide a continuous monitoring capability of large areas of tank floors, where water and other contaminants collect and cause corrosion and consequently cause fuel spillages.
The results showed that considerable corrosion that was not necessarily visible to the naked-eye was detected, even with only a defect that measured 0.002% of the area examined.
Another study, this one exploring the concept of robotics in firefighting, also examines the potential of sensors to ease operational pressures and increase standards.
The 2013 study by the University Of Sumatera Utara Indonesia, used a fire extinguisher robot with ultrasonic sensors to detect hotspots, and specifically the ultraviolet rays they emit.
As they can be operated remotely, these robots and similar machines can be used to extinguish fires at ports and on ships.
A Safer Future?
Fire prevention, not just firefighting, is a key benefit of ultrasonic sensors, with some designed specifically to inspect the content of fire suppression system cylinders of CO2 and a range of other extinguishing agents.
There is also the potential for them to be used in search and rescue operations.
Sonar sensors, a type of ultrasonic, are designed to be used underwater and can be a superior alternative to older technologies, such as radar.
They can also be utilized on drones, and this gives a wider field of view than normal and allows for vital data collection.
As actors in the marine industry and wider supply chain continue to innovate and accelerate the drive towards automation, it will have to take into account a multitude of factors, including health and safety and ship maintenance. Ultrasonic sensors and related technology will be at the forefront.