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New Worlds on the High Seas

Efficiency, sustainability and safety define the maritime sector in practically every area – only the perspectives are changing due to the use of advanced digital networks. From the shipbuilder through the system integrator up to the ship owner and the classification societies: By attentively listening to these different maritime groups, it quickly becomes apparent that the focus is not only about saving fuel – maritime shipping is currently undergoing major structural changes.

Whoever saves fuel is, without a doubt, acting sustainably. However, in the maritime industry, where this aspect may amount to savings of around one percent through individual measures, it is still a long way from achieving the status of a ‘‘game changer.’’ When the maritime branch discusses automation and digitization, it involves more than a mere savings of one percent. Expectations are much higher for digital solutions related to targeted data collection and data processing for optimizations that are not related to the drivetrain. Low construction numbers and continually rising costs in the transport sector are driving these expectations. Basically, process optimizations over the entire logistics chain can provide encouraging results, primarily through increasing networking in the global container ship routes. Where to apply this type of fine tuning depends on the roles of the participants.

Those designing ship automation systems consistently seek to reduce design and commissioning times in order to finish projects faster Reductions in new construction and renovation times in the shipyards owe a debt to these developments. Consequently, there is an increased demand for subsystems that are commissioned in advance. These can potentially pick up the pace of commissioning; however, only if the interfaces can communicate. And this is the major catch within maritime technology. Participants on panel discussions and in maritime industry conventions are consistently reminded of how much interfaces, communication and data protocols occupy the attention of the electronic firms. Interfaces that have not been previously tested act like sand in a transmission. Every day that does not function smoothly because of this has a noticeable impact through longer commissioning times – and that costs money.

This backdrop explains WAGO’s intensive work in providing a broad basis for the MTP protocol. The ‘‘Module Type Package’’, (MTP) uses the OPC UA language, preferred in maritime applications. It functions like a printer driver by enabling a functional, digital twin of a subsystem to be linked into the ship’s overall automation system. The file includes visualizations, a function description and defined data points.

Effective Sustainability:
Digital Opportunities in Shipping

Increased Data Transparency for More Efficient Processes

The shipping companies and their crews likewise profit from consistent interfaces and data structures during the operating phase of a container ship, to select one example. Björn Sellschopp, an expert in project management and CEO of HMPP GmbH from Hamburg, imagines that routine ship maintenance could be performed more quickly if operating data were consistently available and could be processed in a central app. Then it becomes possible to schedule periods in dry dock like a Formula 1 pit stop. “In quickly and out just as fast,” according to Sellschopp; he wants a common platform to provide a structure for everyone to work on. “This is the right track, even if it will take time until everyone gets accustomed to it.” It remains difficult to permit others to view one’s own data and to share information. “This will require trust and transparency. Digitization by itself will not solve our problems, because poor processes are not improved by making them digital.”

Proof of this is easily found along international trade routes. “In Brazil, the ship must arrive at the roadstead within a specific window of time. After around ten days of travel to reach my goal, I only get into the harbor itself three days later. The order is determined by who arrives first,” explains Hannah Ohorn, Superintendent at the Hamburg Süd shipping company. Those who have the idea that the ship could theoretically arrive in Brazil after 13 days and then sail directly to a berth in the harbor, are gravely mistaken. In this case, the quay wouldn't be reached for 16 days. “If communication were better, then this would be easy to change. I would know, for example, whether a pier were occupied, and not just two hours before a ship is due.” That which already functions quite well in European harbors is not necessary common in other regions. According to Ohorn, “Operational planning offers a lot of potential. There is really an opportunity there; however, every country deals with it differently. Digitization would significantly increase efficiency here.”

Control room below the deck: Expectations are very high relative to digital solutions for targeted data collection and its processing for optimization –away from the drivetrain.

It makes no sense to steam at 18 knots across the Atlantic and then sit outside of a harbor for three days.

Dr.-Ing. Holger Watter, Professors at the Flensburg University of Applied Sciences

Data Files – not reams of paper

These are precisely the topics that could be easily solved by digitization, according to Professor Holger Watter at the Flensburg University of Applied Sciences. Let’s stay with the example of the container ship, that after ten days, plus X in the roadstead, wants to dock in Brazil: energy efficiency could be increased by using better map-based controls on the route. This functions like predictive driving in a car. “It makes no sense to steam at 18 knots across the Atlantic and then sit outside of a harbor for three days,” explains Watter. “The faster I travel, the more fuel I consume, and that ratio is cubed.” This means that doubling the speed multiplies the fuel consumption, to eight times as much. The converse is also true: Traveling at half the speed uses only one-eighth as much fuel. “I can influence these operating variables,” underscores the professor, with the goal of arriving in a more timely fashion during a ship's window of time for entering the harbor – as long as the prevailing berth occupation data are also available for the ship’s captain.

Hubert Hoffmann goes even further along the logistics chain at this point, specifically with respect to consistent data storage. Hoffmann, who has a degree in computer science, works as the CIO/CDO for the MSC shipping company in Hamburg, and has described paper bills of

lading as his personal enemy during a presentation at a convention. Instead of using paper, which is cumbersome and involves flipping back and forth to find information, it is more elegant and economical if, for example, “the trucker, with whom we have a contract, can directly access MSC’s data services. This direct exchange of information would lead to a perfectly planned infrastructure in the logistics chain after unloading – even if the ship remains outside of this schedule. Ohorn also sees the linking of the ship into the harbor logistics as an essential point that represents, “An exciting field for optimization.” In addition, the classic method of reporting from on board the ship could also profit because messaging routines are easier when using automation and digitization. It remains customary that the cargo documents arrive on board in paper format. “They are then checked by hand, even though the data have to be digitally available; otherwise I would not be able to print them out,” criticizes the superintendent of Hamburg Süd. “That is ridiculous for those who have to do this on site.” If the data arrived directly at the ship, “we could save a lot of time.” This also includes the noon report, for which consumption and output data must be entered by hand.

Thorsten Sienk
Norman Südekum | WAGO

Photo: Thorsten Sienk WAGO

The WAGO-I/O-SYSTEM 750 provides a foundation for easily collecting different data formats, which can be bundled, precisely processed using freely programmable algorithms and subsequently output.


What is truly at stake in digitization for shipping: Data, in and of itself, is not as important as the information that can be derived from it. Merely collecting data at X number of points in a ship, and drawing conclusions about how to get the vessel to harbor most quickly is the wrong approach. Instead, the point is setting goals and acquiring the necessary information to meet them. And as with all the technological possibilities that digitization offers, one cannot forget that the people on board have to live with the consequences. Hannah Ohorn, Superintendent at the Hamburg Süd shipping company is convinced, with good reason, that efficiency measures can only be implemented profitably if there is good personal communication between the ship and the office. “We have to be accessible for the crew and must seek out dialog with them,” states Ohorn. In addition, it is important to critically question our preconceptions in order to mutually gain new insights. “We are colleagues and share the same goals; only the locations differ.” Hubert Hoffmann firmly believes that, “We must mutually establish digital processes in order to move faster. With digitization, I can simply try something out.”

“We must be visible for the crews, and we need to seek out dialogue.” says Hannah Ohorn, Superintendent of the Hamburg Süd shipping company. She is convinced that efficiency measures can only be profitably implemented if there is good personal contact between the ship and the office.

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