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Big Data for Big Ships

Under Maritime 4.0, big data will check in on large ships within commercial shipping.

While IIoT / Industry 4.0 continues to adopt specific forms for implementation in process automation environments, the first cyber-physical systems and cloud-based network structures for maritime operations still have a long way to go before they are ready for sea travel. While it is primarily European maritime equipment suppliers that are convinced Maritime 4.0 will enable them to achieve enormous gains in commercial shipping efficiency, the question remains as to what exactly big data actually offers the maritime sector, and what new challenges are linked to these massive data sets?

Automation Takes Hold in Shipping:

  • Energy-efficient operation by linking sub-systems
  • Reading ship data and control intervention thanks to remote access from shore
  • Cost Reductions due to Unmanned Shipping
  • Evaluation of weather data and adjusting route to save fuel
  • The advantages of cost reduction, environmental protection and increased efficiency are countered by a high risk of data abuse and cybercriminality.

Sector experts are convinced of the enormous potential of big data.

Remote-controlled cargo ships on international waters are currently only dreams; however, they are approaching reality as automation is increasingly incorporated into ship designs and enables that which was inconceivable a few years ago. Examples include the networking of subsystems, which allows the linking of systems for finer tuning and significantly more efficiency; or remote access from land to read ship data or engage in the ship's operation to control specific functions. Whether or not people remain on board, sector experts like Hauke Schlegel, director of the VDMA “Marine Equipment and Systems” department, are convinced that, “an unimaginable potential is concealed” in big data. The maritime sector, with the German maritime economy as the leading global supplier, stands to profit from big data – a fact that pleases Schlegel immensely.

Today, large-format monitors, rather than the view from the bridge, direct commercial and passenger ships.

Cost Reductions due to Unmanned Shipping

In general, cargo services suffer daily from high and ever-increasing cost pressures. The reason for this is simple: there is too much available shipping tonnage underway on the oceans – a result of speculation during the boom years between 2004 and 2009. Overcapacity and ongoing price erosion are the end result. Transport services are therefore attempting to retain their economic viability by reducing costs. And anywhere cost reductions are discussed, labor costs are always under consideration – even for shipping companies. For them, it specifically means a choice between quantity or quality. Companies either reduce the crew numbers on board, or the rely on a crew with lower electro-technical qualifications and correspondingly lower rates of pay.

From Oslo to Frederikshavn: in the narrow fjords of Norway, land-to-ship communication remains simple.

Allocating Costs According to Their Sources

With or without a crew: On a ship, there are many applications that could be operated more efficiently, aside from crew amenities. Measuring, evaluating, formulating remedies – Maritime 4.0 holds tremendous promise for these specific areas. Consider building management for a moment: By employing data recording and networking, consumption and costs can be determined and optimized down to the individual room level. Comparable measurements do not occur on container ships. However, different containers contribute to different levels of transportation costs. This is due to the fact that, despite the standardized dimensions of a container, all cargo is not the same, which is abundantly clear when one considers “reefers.”

Everything is tightly linked. The chart illustrates how important big data and close-knit networks are for modern shipping operations.

Route Planning Instead of Full Steam across the Ocean

Another example of the advantages that result from closer data networking can be measured in fuel consumption. If routes are plotted around low-pressure zones, for example, fuel is saved. Consequently, it is advantageous to evaluate weather data with more than safety in mind. Additional processing of harbor information follows a similar path. Prof. Holger Watter, Dr.-Ing and president of the Technical University of Flensburg, recently enquired, “What is the use of traveling at full speed to a harbor, if I have to wait for a docking position?” When considering fuel consumption, it is substantially more efficient to adjust the traveling speed so that a cargo or container ship arrives punctually in a harbor that is logistically prepared to handle its freight.

Inconspicuous placement, but a serious outcome: if both buttons are pressed in case of a pirate attack, a comprehensive crisis management program will run in the background.

Maritime 4.0 Requires Greater IT Security

In this context, ships' bridges have long served as automation control centers where information flows together. This includes navigation, communication and cargo information, as well as administrative data, like registration documents and cargo declarations. With electronic maps and automated identification systems (AIS), it is apparent on the bridge that digitalization is increasing on the high seas. The trend speaks loudly, and the described potentials agree: big data for large ships? It would certainly be worth it!

The AIS provides information about key data from other ships on the route.

IT Security: An Ongoing Competition

In view of the serious effects caused by maritime accidents, it is surprising in this context that the current version of the IT Security Act does not include shipping operations among its critical infrastructures, which is a stark contrast to energy and water supply on land. Actually, cybersecurity should be considered a “competition,” which occurs between producers, hackers and operators. In order to flexibly react to new threats, an open operating system is the first choice because open-source products are not dependent on just one manufacturer. Rather, open systems are simultaneously used by many programmers who recognize security gaps more quickly and collaborate on improvements. Therefore, WAGO's PFC family is based on Linux® with real-time expansion, which provides common functions for cybersecurity as defaults, regardless of manufacturer, and offers future possibilities for expansion.

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