IoT & Changing Connectivity at Sea

By Dan Rooney

Whether it’s autonomous cars or connected houses, it seems like everywhere you look these days, internet of things (IoT) technology is a focus. Even in the conservative maritime world, IoT is currently a hot topic. Shifting supply chain solutions and business models are fundamentally changing the way that commercial shipping and the wider transport sector operates. 

IoT enables an organization to capture value from information, regardless of sector, and in essence forms a loop that creates a larger process. Deloitte conceptualized this process and named it the Information Value Loop in 2015. By capturing the pertinent stages of how IoT and sensors might cooperate with process modeling, the value in integrating IoT can be realized. 
IoT Applications & Devices within the Maritime Sector
For many vessel owners and operators, IoT and machine to machine (M2M) applications and devices remain abstract concepts. The maritime industry can be slow to implement technological changes that are quickly implemented on the shore, although this is beginning to improve. A coherent and unified approach to delivering IoT/M2M solutions, via manufacturer and system integrator partnerships will allow vessel owners and operators to realize the full potential of IoT/M2M. Despite the maritime industry’s reticence to adopt new technologies, IoT/M2M is becoming more commonplace on board as vessel owner and operators realize the value that IoT/M2M brings. However, deployment of an IoT/M2M application or device alone is not a panacea for cost savings. IoT/M2M applications and devices must be deployed as part of an end-to-end solution, including back-office intelligence for the augmentation and processing of received data into useful information. 
One primary maritime area of focus for cost reduction is fuel consumption. Faced with rising costs for bunkers against low charter rates, vessel owners and operators are looking for alternative methods to reduce operational expenses. Some cost reduction methods give a clear return on investment, such as anti-fouling paint or weather-based routing services. When these methods are coupled with IoT/M2M applications and devices, the degree of information available for smarter cost saving decisions increases exponentially. For example, adding IoT/M2M fuel flow meters to a supply line can provide information regarding the (near) real-time operational efficiency of a vessel’s engines. The current technical data from the vessel’s machinery systems can be correlated against known data (manufacturers data/sea trials/previously gathered data), compared to determine if performance is lagging.
Cargo Monitoring 
The containerization of the shipping and greater transport industry revolutionized supply chain logistics. Pioneering shipping companies such as Maersk have identified that the digitalization of the container industry is an important aspect of growth. It still has room to grow, but it will dramatically change the industry. 
Chilled refrigerator transport (also known as reefer) is one area where IoT/M2M has revolutionized. For the most part, the general public remains blissfully unaware of how they get produce such as bananas or the challenges in transporting a banana from a tree to a supermarket. Meanwhile, a charterer wants to ensure that their cargo of bananas arrives at its destination in an acceptable condition and on time. Regular updates regarding cargo humidity, temperature and air pressure can be automatically transferred ashore, along with the ship’s estimated time of arrival via IoT/M2M applications, allowing a charterer to update its onward supply chain. In the event of an anomaly, skilled refrigeration technicians can remotely make changes via satellite to the cargo conditions, or alert crew to failed equipment on board. All of this information can be aggregated and modelled then updated automatically onto a mobile app for relevant parties. 
Trend Toward Automation
With the significant increase in efforts to provide automation within the maritime industry, experts are predicting that new vessels will face a gradual reduction in crew members over the coming years. The majority of decision-making processes are being moved to an onshore control center. For example, some major vessel owners are even proposing the potential for introducing new vessels that require as few as five crew members. 
Major shipbuilders such as Rolls Royce are also striving towards the concept of the autonomous vessel. Rolls Royce announced an initiative called the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA), defining how by 2020, semi or fully autonomous vessels could be sailing across the world. Monitored and controlled by a small crew within a central location and guided by multiple sensors and controlled systems on board, the autonomous vessels will reduce the cost of shipping goods. As the maritime sector moves toward automation, there is a growing importance to introduce multiple and redundant layers of connectivity to enable secure and reliable communications. Considering the potential scenarios that could arise if a loss of connectivity was experienced on an automated vessel, having 24/7 connectivity regardless of location is critical. Ensuring vessels have the proper equipment to guarantee reliable connectivity, for example automated switching between disparate satellite and terrestrial networks is essential to operation. In order to achieve this high degree of connectivity, satellite communications company Speedcast has developed hybrid networks (satellite, 4G/LTE and wireless radio) to enable connectivity for critical communications - allowing a vessel to never be out of touch regardless of its location. The IoT/M2M revolution can only bring value when coupled with reliable and redundant connectivity. 
What’s Next for Big Data? 
We’ve heard it for several years now. The term big data has become an industry buzzword. The dilemma is that once companies implement IoT sensors that collect data, many don’t know what to do with all of the extra information. It’s like buying an expensive sports car before learning how to drive.
IoT/M2M generated data must be transferred in a cost-effective manner. For example, Maersk estimates that it transfers around 30TB of data per month for its fleet of 400 vessels. This renders data transfer unmanageable for a vessel equipped with standard L-band mobile satellite equipment such as Inmarsat Fleet Broadband or Iridium Pilot. Vessel owners and operators need to consider if there is an urgency to transfer even a portion of this vast amount of data. Primarily determining which on-board data is time critical, needing (near) real-time transmission and which data can be delayed is the first step of optimization. Applying further optimization techniques to the generated data, such as compression or batching before transmission will aid in cost effective use of the vessel’s connectivity. The second step is considering where should the IoT/M2M generated data be uploaded to? Costs associated with cloud storage are dropping quickly, but considering our earlier vessel generating 30GB per day and 1TB per month cloud storage costs could quickly increase. Therefore, the business requirement for the IoT/M2M data should be well defined. 
Keeping Data Secure
Whilst IoT/M2M and the big data revolution is viewed as the key to the future of the maritime and transport industry, cyber security represents a major area of risk. Maersk recently experienced a global outage for several days due to a Petya ransomware cybe rattack that rendered all of their business units offline. As media reports an increasing frequency of cyber and ransomware attacks, organizations between to consider how secure their networks and data actually are. Considering that vessels will be transferring huge amounts of data to the cloud, there is an exponential risk of a cyber attack or data compromise. 
Speedcast recognized that cyber-awareness and knowledge within the maritime sector was low, and developed a complete cyber security solution, delivering end-to-end cyber protection from the vessel to the cloud. IoT/M2M applications and devices can by default expose themselves to the internet, and without adequate cyber security policies in place, can be a potential gateway for a hacker. Speedcast can provide assistance in developing cyber security policies for shipping companies, plus determining if previous data has been compromised. 
These secure solutions, coupled with the growth of big data and the use of innovative IoT/M2M applications and devices provide a roadmap to a bright future for the maritime industry. Why work and ship harder, when you can work and ship smarter. 
The Author
Dan Rooney, Commercial Maritime Product Director, Speedcast
(As published in the August 2017 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News)
Maritime Reporter Magazine, page 32,  Aug 2017

Read IoT & Changing Connectivity at Sea in Pdf, Flash or Html5 edition of August 2017 Maritime Reporter

Other stories from August 2017 issue


Maritime Reporter

First published in 1881 Maritime Reporter is the world's largest audited circulation publication serving the global maritime industry.