While the industry has been digitising production processes for decades now, the maritime sector is still cautiously taking its first steps in this area. A pity, thinks Bram van den Boom, CEO of Dutch start-up company TechBinder, as the advantages are enormous and the step is necessary.
The fact that the industry has such a head start – more than 40 years – has everything to do with the pressure imposed by regulations to trace the origin of products, explains Van den Boom who has a background in the Food and Pharmaceutical industries. All data from the production process therefore had to be recorded in detail in order to comply with the mandatory reporting.
The various assets in a production line send out signals. Van den Boom: ‘You can do smart things with these signals. You can create automatic reports, predict maintenance, but also optimise your operations and reduce waste or emissions, for example. He tells of a project at beer brewery Carlsberg where the performance of all production lines worldwide was collected in one control room. This made it
possible to compare the different production lines and to implement best practices for less performing production lines. Also, the state of the assets and possible faults could be captured in one single place.
Van den Boom: ‘This allows for continuous improvement. When a fault occurs, the dedicated technician can do his or her job very specifically, which greatly improves the uptime (and therefore profitability) of
the production line.’
Van den Boom came into contact with the maritime world when he was asked one day to speak at a conference on how the experiences of digitalisation in Food and Pharma could be translated to the
maritime sector. ‘The conclusion of that talk was actually simple,’ he explains, ‘a vessel is just a
oating machine. A production machine contains generators, engines, valves, et cetera – all the things that you also encounter on an average vessel.’ However, there are also major differences. A factory machine operates in one set location; in a conditioned space and 24/7 at the same level. A vessel, on the other hand moves continuously. The conditions in which vessel assets operate also fluctuate more. For example, the temperature can vary continuously on a vessel and vessel assets have to run at different power levels. External factors, such as the weather, also have a much greater impact on vessel assets than factory assets. But also, who is the captain? Moreover, the value chain is more complex within maritime operations. Otherwise, it is exactly the same units that run.
The maritime sector could therefore also benefit from digitalisation, it appears. After all, this market is facing a number of challenges. Vessel assets are becoming increasingly complex and there is a growing need for reporting. In addition, there is continuous pressure to reduce emissions. In 30 years’ time, every vessel will have to be climate-neutral. Taking into account the lifespan of a new vessel, steps have to be taken quickly to reach that goal. According to Van den Boom, the fact that the maritime sector is still slow to take steps in this area is due to the (more) complex value chain and because it sticks to the same working methods. Moreover, it is a small world in which new players and start-ups have difficulty getting in. Then you really need the help of a coach or initiatives such as the PortXL maritime accelerator programme, Van den Boom explains.
Optimisation before transformation
According to Van den Boom, optimisation is the rst step before the shipping industry can transform. Digitalisation is a huge enabler in this process and ultimately also ensures that you can sail more efficiently, run more efficient operations and do more with fewer people. The latter is actually
where our real story begins, explains Van den Boom: ‘Asset technologies are becoming more complex while more and more people in the field do not have the knowledge or training to deal with this complex technology. The generation that is now entering the market is also much less loyal to an employer. As a result, knowledge does not stay within the company and is not enhanced.’
Digitalisation offers a valuable input here, thinks Van den Boom. ‘The efficiency of an organisation is determined by the efficiency of knowledge transfer within certain knowledge domains. We are used to transferring knowledge from one person to another. Digitalisation ensures that this knowledge becomes ‘fluid’. You then have instant access to information and are no longer dependent on a specialist.’
Smart Vessel Optimizer
A few years ago, together with his former employer Schneider Electric, Van den Boom was given the opportunity to run a pilot with a Dutch shipyard. This immediately produced a number of interesting insights for that shipyard. Van den Boom: ‘We concluded, for instance, that the operational profile did not match the technical design of the vessel. This caused more wear and tear. In the end, we created a return of investment of one month for this party.’
This pilot project further aroused his interest in the maritime world. Van den Boom founded TechBinder,
together with the former service manager of the shipyard. The company is supported by Schneider Electric, among others. The piece of technology that was developed for the shipyard was further fine-tuned and is now marketed under the name Smart Vessel Optimizer. A vessel is not fundamentally designed to be digital.
Moreover, every vessel is different ‘under the bonnet’. A somewhat complex vessel can already have 300 different systems integrated on board, all producing their own data/signals and speaking their own ‘language’. The signals are often lost or stored in a log file in the system of the asset itself and are difficult to retrieve. Often, these log files are only called upon and analysed after an incident.
Van den Boom: ‘That’s regrettable, because Smart Vessel Optimizer makes it relatively easy to retrieve these signals (live) ashore. ‘This way you can always monitor the condition of your asset and react sooner based on trending. It is also possible to perform remote troubleshooting and instantly solve a failing asset much more often. This benefits the availability of your vessel, and the cost of repairs. As a vessel owner or operations manager, you want to own the data streams. You can use it for your own benefit but you can also tune the whole value chain, such as service providers, insurers and the shipyard to what you are doing.’
Faster decision making
‘Because a selection of all available data points are now brought to shore in a structured way, you can start making combinations and sharing insights with people who can then do their work more efficiently and faster,’ Van den Boom explains. ‘He tells of a customer who used to call all the vessels every morning to ask what they were doing, what their ETA was, how much cargo they were taking, etcetera. ‘That is a time-consuming activity for both the captain and the company. Based on just a few data points, we were able to present this information in a live dashboard and only the salient issues of the day were highlighted. This brought enormous efficiency to both operations and also avoided a lot of miscommunication,’ says Van den Boom. By only highlighting the things that stand out, you can create a much better overview with fewer people.
A good data system also works in such a way that the more information you put into it, the smarter it becomes for an operation. Van den Boom: ‘We can map out in great detail where optimisations can be made and how they contribute to your business model. You can only create that kind of insight by monitoring in detail and in a structured way over time.’ Another advantage of the system is that connections can be made between assets. He mentions the example where TechBinder traced the rootcause of a high energy consumption of a vessel. It turned out to be a leak in the air system that caused the compressor motor to be urged to increase its pressure every 15 minutes.
TechBinder develops purely in a functional area. They set up the infrastructure, the data belongs to the customer. The customer determines who sees what and who does not. The back-end of the tool is heavily tested and scalable technology that is also used by the industry. Van den Boom: ‘For us, it is a strategic consideration to take that industrial technology, which is already 40 years old and was designed for this purpose only. You can’t actually do that yourself. It also offers advantages in terms of Cyber Security, then you know as a small company that you’re in the right place. All our systems are continuously monitored and proactive action is taken when a suspicious situation arises. In addition, it is only possible to retrieve data, you can never access a PLC or modify anything on the vessel.
Progressive shipping company
But is the maritime market ready for this now? Van den Boom: ‘Yes indeed! The way the maritime market should look at it is that this technology simply changes the rules of the game. If you do it right, you advantage. It does require a completely different set of skills and insight within the organisation. Van den Boom has noticed that the people on board often get excited to get started. Many captains want to sail more sustainably, for example by getting the best setup between engine power and pitch, but do not have the proper information to do so. ‘We use people’s creativity to look for the optimum. They are all professionals who want to do their jobs properly. With this information, they can also steer more actively in that direction.’
Fortunately, there are already more and more initiatives taken and maritime players are warming up to digitalisation. ÈTA Shipping in Leeuwarden is one of them. They are building up a shipping company from scratch and have a number of new ways of looking at things. The company is going to be set up digitally from the ground up and will be building modularly. Van den Boom: ‘We are going to take care of the complete digitalisation for them. Because they do not have any vessels yet, we can also be involved in the design of the vessels. ÈTA Shipping focuses on short sea and large transport. Eventually, they will also start transporting wind turbine blades.’
In principle, TechBinder focuses on shipyards, shipping companies and OEMs, the parties that supply components, although the service providers can also benefit. In doing so, the start-up has an ambitious goal: in four years, they want to have their service implemented on at least 1,000 vessels worldwide. •
Flexible, modular systems
TechBinder has designed the Smart Vessel Optimizer system in such a way that it can be gradually expanded. At this moment the system can talk to 600 different types of PLCs. These are computers that control assets. The smallest system consists of a box of 47 x 54 x 23 centimetres and can extract 50 measurement values from up to 3 systems. For example, for measuring fuel, speed and location. It is aimed at retrieving data for OEMs or on inland vessels. Van den Boom: ‘With the largest system, you
can extract infinite systems and measured values. We see these more often implemented in seagoing vessels and larger vessels.’ The company Reikon links a small version to their ballast water treatment systems. The company will provide remote support and will take steps in a digital transformation internally to maintain their systems more efficiently, but also use it to automate the Ballast Water Treatment Book, a report that is still processed manually. TechBinder also cooperates with parties such as the Maritime Data Company. Based on the API provided by TechBinder, they are now processing very
detailed financial performance of a ship in a financial graph. Currently, the quantity of signals allows the system to still sends all signals to shore via satellite. ‘Eventually, you also want to enable intelligence on board to analyse the assets on site. We are prepared for that,’ adds Van den Boom. •
Meet TechBinder at stand 1.535 at Offshore Energy tofay.
This article also appeared in the September 2022 edition of Windpowernl magazine