The next big wave in maritime innovation

2015-08-17 - Disruptive technologies change our lives and can even trigger revolutions

Two hundred years ago the steam engine brought us railways, mechanized shipping and factories, and the Industrial Revolution was born. This was a ‘sea change’ from rural agricultural economies to industrial urbanization, the beginning of mass production, and widespread electrification. Computers and the Internet, two 20th century disruptive technologies, have given us unprecedented access to information and a communication superhighway that has fueled a globalized economy.

Today a new era of productivity is dawning, brought about by the connection of intelligent machines, fitted with a growing number of electronic sensors, via the Internet, usually referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’. ABB takes a more-holistic approach. For one, ABB’s approach extends beyond manufacturing, or discrete automation, to include process industries as well as utilities and infrastructure. And ABB’s approach concentrates not just on things – those physical devices that are undergoing an automation revolution – but also on services, to ensure these devices are running optimally. People remain central to the process, in that they are making decisions, programming and optimizing all activities performed by these devices. Put simply, this is the Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP) at ABB: Intelligent industrial devices, connected via networks that expand opportunities for remote services and that allow people to make better decisions thanks to their ability to collect, analyze and act on data.

The IoTSP is enabling us to ‘see, hear, and feel’ more acutely than ever before. This revolution is allowing us to operate machines more safely, with greater efficiency, and with less environmental impact, not just individually, but as complete systems, such as power grids and fleets of locomotives, airplanes, and ships.

For the maritime industry, this transition is facilitated by the improved satellite connectivity of ships, which allows to better take advantage of the mass of sensors already on-board, such as for motion monitoring, engine and power data and GPS (global positioning system). But reaching a new level of productivity and safety will require to create an ecosystem of sensors and the software to cope with the data. Similar surges in big data are sweeping through all industries and look set to change the way we live.

With this new wave of innovation come new tools and applications that enable smarter and faster ways to collaborate, not only making our operations more efficient, but making them safer and more rewarding too.

In addition to automation, power and propulsion solutions ABB is now delivering integrated systems, including sensors and monitoring hardware, and the software to visualize and jointly manage operations. By satellite connection this data is shared and jointly used by the crew on the ship, the owner’s operational centers onshore, and by ABB’s experts in service hubs around the world. This integrated way of operating connects the key stakeholders and reduces the chance of information getting lost, helps identify where the risks and inefficiencies are, ensures quick access to the correct expertise, and allow to make decisions quicker. This new way of working is called Integrated Operations.

Using networks of sensors, ship owners can capture a range of ship-voyage information, including location, weather and ocean-current data, together with performance data from on-board equipment and cargo status. By combining sophisticated analytics, expert advice from ABB, and data visualization technology, ship owners can monitor their vessels' status and condition in real-time, enabling data-driven decisions. With users of all kinds having access to tailored data sets, service engineers, chief engineers, superintendents, operations managers, and the commercial management can make well-informed decisions to optimize performance. For example, shifts towards preventive, condition-based maintenance will enable a service to be requested ahead of a predicted decline in propulsion system performance, which can prevent a failure that puts the vessel out of service for days or even weeks.

Imagine a 100,000 DWT (deadweight tons) LNG (liquefied natural gas) carrier sailing at full speed across the Indian Ocean, from Qatar to Japan. An unexpected trip in the starboard power frequency converter causes an immediate loss of 50 percent of its propulsion power. The giant vessel does not lose any of its safety-critical maneuvering capability, but it has to reduce speed significantly. Slower sailing means a longer journey time, resulting directly in higher operational costs and, since part of the ship’s power redundancy is lost, reduced safety margins.

In a typical case, such a fault would lead to slow sailing for several days, until a qualified service engineer could reach the destination. Here, however, that scenario was avoided, because the ship was equipped with an ABB remote diagnostic system (RDS), connected, in the middle of an ocean, to the IoTSP. The crew, having recognized a fault, notified an ABB technical support engineer and within 20 minutes he was able to connect on-line to the RDS on board. He read the logs, data transients and checked through the events recorded at the exact time of the fault. Together with the chief engineer on board, he browsed through the event list from the frequency converter and discussed the possible causes of the fault. In this case, the result of their shared investigation, carried out over the ‘chat’ function, indicated a broken semiconductor in one of the phase outputs. The ABB specialists helped the on-board engineer to verify the diagnosis and the component was replaced from spares stored on board.

The entire troubleshooting process took about two hours from the first call until the entire propulsion system was back in operation.

Improved satellite connectivity and access to information, through the IoTSP, allows vessels to be on-line, almost all the time, connected to their operators, their owners and to experts from the manufacturer. Already today, large shipping companies use their shore-based operation centers to support their captains with additional advice in how to optimize their route and reduce their average speed, which saves them hundreds of millions of dollars a year and significantly reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.

On top, ABB’s advisory system, connected via the cloud, enables better time of arrival forecasting, can predict if heavy weather will prevent the helicopter from landing on the deck, or whether the ship motions will require the pool on a cruise vessel to be closed down in the afternoon. These predictions allow the Captain to make better decisions, such as adjusting a ship’s trim for better sailing, or changing the heading of the vessel. Similarly, by constantly measuring the energy and power savings of on-board installations, such as ABB drives and motors, and sending data, including emissions data and fuel consumption to the cloud, ABB’s advisory system can recommend actions to optimize fuel consumption and reduce energy losses.

Combining the voyage and energy data with the condition monitoring of mission critical equipment on board allows to predict wear and tear, and thus provides decision-making support during operation but also for optimizing planned maintenance of the equipment. And because the crew on board a vessel changes rather frequently, being connected to the IoTSP also allows new crews to learn quicker how to operate the vessel to its optimum efficiency and safety.

These Big Data analytics also require the human ingenuity of the operators and ABB’s experts because without knowing which parameters are to be collected, combined, and how they shall be displayed, too much information can quickly overwhelm the user. This is why ABB continuously works with the users to create exactly that small piece of information which they need in order to perform their work better.

So, by integrating automation, power generation and distribution, propulsion, and services, and people, we can take the productivity and safety of ships and entire fleets to the next level. This is what we call Integrated Operations, and it is powered by ABB’s IoTSP.


*The Azipod system's signature benefits – low fuel consumption, greater speed using less power, better maneuverability, reduced noise and a compact footprint – typically reduce energy consumption of open-water vessels by 5 to 15 percent, but savings as high as 25 percent have been recorded.

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