Op-Ed: 5 ways technology will shape the maritime industry in 2023

Written by Heather Ervin
Sasha Heriot

By Sasha Heriot, Head of Product, Vessel Assistance Systems – Wärtsilä Voyage

The maritime industry was hopeful of a return to “normal” in 2022. While there are signs the maritime supply chain—and particularly port congestion—is recovering from the low point of the pandemic, the industry as a whole has remained significantly impacted this year by unpredictable and sustained change.

COVID-19’s impact has waned across the globe, but conflict, climate concerns and the specter of a potentially historic recession in Western economies will continue to impact cargo movement in 2023.

The volatility in the global economy will naturally create debate about whether the time is right to adopt new technologies and make proactive investments in maritime’s digital transformation. However, the message is clear: it is only by embracing new solutions that the industry can navigate this volatility in a sustainable and profitable way.

In 2023, data and technology will be the key driver of a more proactive mode of management; a mode that will enable compliance with incoming regulations and drive safer, more efficient operations. Here are 5 ways we expect technology to shape the maritime industry in the next 12 months:

  • The need for ports to digitalize will accelerate as their importance grows as the interface between land and sea supply chains.

The role that ports play in the end-to-end supply chain will continue to garner attention beyond maritime, as the spotlight on delivery delays, emissions and people shortages continues into 2023. As the intermediary environment between land and sea supply chains, ports will have huge involvement and power to shape decisions on data and sustainability, as well as Just in Time arrivals and Green Shipping Corridors. 

This will drive a need to digitize ports, to help open up sharing real-time data across the supply chain and ensure vessels move through ports more efficiently. Technology will be used to break down silos and ensure the supply chain can communicate more efficiently, as all stakeholders are operating from the same data.

  • Regulatory pressure will drive the uptake of new technologies more than anticipated

Decarbonization regulations are ramping up in maritime, starting with the CII and EEXI rules coming into effect in January. As such, the industry is recognizing the huge impact digitalization and data-driven insights can have on driving short-term emissions reductions and bolstering compliance efforts. 

Many in the industry are waiting for the real decarbonization silver bullet of zero emission fuels, but in the meantime, and especially in 2023, clean tech and voyage optimization will create an immediate, accessible pathway to not only compliance, but also tangibly reduced emissions. Amid regulatory pressure to decarbonize, digital technology will be the most immediate and effective way for the industry to start curbing emissions today, whilst we wait for the industry’s longer-term solutions to be in a position to be rolled out. 

  • Companies will go on a hiring spree to bring a more innovative spirit to the maritime industry

We envisage more maritime companies will publicly commit to using tech such as AI to fast-track emissions reduction, especially through voyage optimization. However, there remains a shortage of detailed knowledge and skill sets within the industry to use these technologies effectively and reach the digitalization utopia we see becoming central to the future of maritime.

As such, we expect to see a shifting of job roles and hiring priorities in the industry. Companies will focus on bringing in talent from adjacent sectors, such as logistics and the wider supply chain, to access the data and IT and sustainability specialists that are necessary to increase the pace of change and deliver against ambitious commercial and net zero strategies.

  • Maritime’s innovation process will reach a happy medium between digital twinning and physical testing.

In 2023, maritime will continue to realize the benefits of digital twinning to help make R&D more realistic by creating digital versions of existing vessels. This has the potential to allow organizations to use simulated, but still near real conditions, to test different scenarios without risk or safety compromises.

This will become the first step of much of the industry’s technological innovation process. It will be followed by physical trials on test vessels and in experience centers to speed up innovation, enabling organizations to fail fast and maximize time and cost efficiencies to bring new tech to market quicker.

  • VR and mixed reality training will become more widely adopted to cost-effectively fill maritime’s skills chasm

Maritime currently faces an enormous skills shortage, with crew numbers continuing to decline. The number of incoming seafarers is also not rising fast enough, and action must be taken now for maritime to continue to function, especially in the digital age. Driven by this crisis, 2023 will see maritime fully embrace VR and mixed reality training methods, ushering in a new era of learning and development within the industry.

Physical training can be expensive, time consuming, and if carried out onboard, also potentially high risk. Blending this with virtual training can provide a range of benefits. Learners can experience simulated versions of life at sea, operating in near-real conditions to see how they may operate in a range of different scenarios. Remote services will continue to increase, borne out of proven solutions such as cloud simulation and VR that increase accessibility and reduce the need for physical attendance. The popularity and implementation of these solutions first grew during the pandemic, and they enable crew to prioritize higher-value tasks and safeguard human resource.

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