OCTOBER 16, 2018 — Much of the discussion among the 50,000 delegates at the recently concluded SMM 2018 exhibition in Hamburg, Germany, centered around how the marine industry is undergoing a digital transformation, propelled by the emergence and influx of technologies such as artificial intelligence and analytics, autonomous and remote controlled shipping, and drones and robotics.
Roger Holm, however, contends that this digital transformation has been underway for quite some time.
“The digital transformation of the marine sector has been underway for a long time, and should not be viewed as a ‘new idea’ or ‘future concept’,” says Holm, President of Wärtsilä’s Marine Solutions business. “To say that we are ‘on the verge’ of a digital transformation is, therefore, misstating the real situation and it overlooks the progress that companies like us have already made.”
Wärtsilä has long been synonymous with innovative thinking and the latest emerging technologies are already deeply embedded at the very core of its Marine product portfolio. Its €200m Smart Technology Hub, due to open in two years’ time in Vaasa, Finland, is further testament to its leading position in transforming the shipping industry into a cutting-edge, ecologically sound, digitally connected Smart Marine Ecosystem.
Just today, Wärtsilä announced the opening of its Acceleration Center in Singapore to promote innovation and collaboration with industry, academia, and local partners to strengthen and develop Singapore’s maritime ecosystem. The opening marks a key milestone following the agreement signed between Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Wärtsilä in April 2018 to collaborate in areas of intelligent vessels, connected smart port operations, cyber-physical security, and digital acceleration with start-ups. Wärtsilä will also address cybersecurity challenges in connected maritime operations by launching its Maritime Cyber Center of Excellence as part of the Singapore Acceleration Center.
“When the economic downturn occurred in 2008, shipping was badly affected,” says Holm. “Since then, ship owners and operators have been seeking ways to reduce their operating costs in order to retain profitability. To achieve this, it has been imperative that operating efficiencies be raised to new levels, and this has been the target of Wärtsilä’s development activities for years now.”
Holm cites the recognition of the Wärtsilä 31 engine, introduced in 2015, by Guinness World Records as being the world’s most efficient four-stroke diesel engine is one notable example.
“Connectivity and digitalization can take ship operations to far greater efficiency levels than was thought even conceivable just a few years ago, and this approach forms the basis of Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine vision. We have been able to take a leadership role in this transition because our marine offering is uniquely broad, which in addition to our experience, has enabled us to accumulate extensive in-house know-how. Consequently, we have the capabilities needed to develop fully integrated, digitalized solutions that optimize efficiency throughout the vessel.”
Wärtsilä has strengthened its support of the digital transformation of the marine industry through the strategic acquisition of key assets such as Transas, earlier this year.
“This is a company that has achieved remarkable global recognition for its complete bridge systems, digital products and electronic charts,” says Holm. “The digital platform that we have already established is being substantially enhanced with the addition of Transas to our portfolio.”
Wärtsilä is among the leaders in the development of autonomous and remote control technologies and hybrid electric propulsion, points out Holms.
“Wärtsilä has already successfully demonstrated remote control of a vessel sailing in the North Sea by operators sitting in California, 8,000 kilometers away. We have succeeded in bringing auto-docking technology to realization, thus increasing the safety of docking operations. Our hybrid power module has set a new industry benchmark, and we have achieved yet another industry first by offering wireless inductive charging technology for charging a ship’s batteries. These are examples of feats accomplished, not vague ideas of what we hope to do in the future.
“Wärtsilä is a smart technology company that is already leading the marine industry to being digitally connected across the entire supply chain. Greater efficiencies translate into better profit performance for our customers, and this is our aim.”
Sometimes cleaner emissions come at a cost
Holm says: “Moving towards zero emissions in shipping will require a lot of actions as well as co-operation across the whole marine ecosystem. The industry is highly regulated and complex as well as fragmented, with many stakeholders pursuing different and sometimes diverging objectives. Sometimes the cleaner emissions comes with a cost, but many times the reduced emissions can go hand in hand with reduced costs through a lower fuel consumption. There will be no final silver bullet solving this challenge, but all actions improving the present status should be looked upon with favorable eyes, and in the end a combination of a connected smart marine ecosystem where smart vessels are connected to smart ports in combination with cleaner fuels will play key roles in the transformation.”
He thinks the digital transformation will be good for ship operators and the environment. “Current investment into digitalization is going to bring along great opportunities that will play a significant role in the decarbonization of shipping, but we will need to consider the entire value chain and this calls for a joined effort by all stakeholders. New pathways are waiting to be explored and these require cross-industry collaboration. At Wärtsilä, we are initiating the next steps and sharing the possibilities with our customers and stakeholders,” says Holm.