Small sensors, big algorithms and transmission technologies mean you can circle shipping's square
By Ryan Skinner (email)
The sea is the ultimate variable. As Heraclitus said: "No man steps in the same river twice. It's not the same river and he's not the same man." The same applies to the sea, to ships, to officers and to operators. Everything is changing. Always.
But what if you could begin to isolate variables, thousands of them, and map them over time, compare them and fuss over them? Pretty soon you'd have some recursive models that allowed you to begin tweaking your behaviour, and improve performance. And that's just what's evolving...
Start with ship design. Anecdotal evidence from leading shipyards in Norway reveals that many are spending time and money in the model tanks, and behind the computer screen, to optimize hull, rudder and propellor interactions. They estimate that hydrodynamic optimisation of these can lead to double-digit efficiencies.
Look in the engine room too. More and more sensors are finding their way into the slimmest of spaces inside firing cylinders, bearings and oil reservoirs, where they measure temperature and pressure. With this kind of data, operators can begin to optimise how they run their engines. Kongsberg began working with Austrian AVL to do just that.
In operation, ships also see optimisation. One new solution measures forces acting on the ship, engine settings and sea states to operate as efficiently as possible in transit. Further, autopilot systems possess a tremendous potential to optimise fuel efficiency, particularly in high-speed operations. Aviation has already seen this happen.
The commercial side of shipping is also due for optimisation. One prolific LinkedIn'er frequently asks the industry if they're willing to consider what he calls profit optimisation. His company offers to help shippers optimise the scheduling and direction of their ships, so that they optimise their time-charter income.
Make no mistake. Optimisation is not new. It just used to be called experience, as a steady hand at the wheel, in the engine room or back at the office took intuitively good decisions. These people are getting rare, though. And even old hands may learn a thing or two from real-world measurement and analysis...