In Depth: Digitalization: Future’s Cornerstone – But at What Cost?

In the aftermath of the Petya cyber attack that hit one of the major industry players A.P. Moller-Maersk, shutting down its terminals across the globe, World Maritime News spoke with DNV GL on the process of digitalization in the industry that seems to be gaining ground. 

According to Albrecht Grell, Executive Vice President, Director of Digital Solutions & Innovation at DNV GL – Maritime, the digital transformation of shipping has moved more slowly than for example in the automotive industry.

“Shipping is a unique industry with assets operating remotely with limited connectivity, assets having a high life expectancy and retrofits being expensive, a fragmented industry structure and commercially challenged.”

“However, in the past few years it has gained momentum and today, the digital transformation of assets and information flows is one of the greatest changes in shipping, spurring automation of existing processes and functions and positively impacting upon safety and environmental performance. Ships are becoming sophisticated sensor hubs and data generators, and advances in satellite communications are improving ship connectivity, allowing for a massive increase in the volumes of data transferred at ever-lower cost.”

As explained by Grell, looking ahead, most ships, systems, and components will be linked to the Internet, making them accessible from almost any location.

The benefits to be reaped from the switch include combining data streams from multiple sources that will enable the industry to make informed decisions faster, leading to more efficient operations and responsive organizations.

“This will boost performance management (including fleet utilization, routing, trim, fuel consumption, emission management) and asset integrity management, building on remote condition monitoring as well as allowing for an increased level of automation,” Grell added.

“New digital solutions will provide better control over the status of degradable systems, increase situational awareness and human reliability, and provide support in the definition of corrective actions and the reduction of operational risk. Improvements in maritime connectivity will also bring many benefits to the whole transport sector. For example, supply chains can be more efficiently organized around adaptable operations that leverage timely information on cargo, routes, and the operation and condition of assets. This will improve efficiency in many ways, including reducing lead times and fuel consumption by optimizing arrival times, while also allowing a better organization of operations and workforces on land for handling cargo and carrying out possible maintenance and/or inspection activities.”

Onshore, new cloud technologies, such as big data platforms and digital twin technologies, will have a dramatic effect on how the industry manages information, and how vessels and their components are designed, built, and tested – all of which will see new digital business models emerging. Advanced software and simulation capabilities will result in more complex systems being controlled by software, while near real-time evaluation possibilities will be available, accompanied by suggestions for corrective actions by the crew and providing supply chain management decision support. Increased automation and availability of high-reliability, software-controlled, cyber-physical systems will allow for advances in automation and remotely controlled operations.”

“From an industry perspective, the smart use of data will help significantly to increase efficiency and improve safety as well as the environmental footprint.”

However, Grell noted that there will be winners and losers, “depending on the speed of adaptation, the ability to leverage data and on where and how potential outside players try to disrupt current business models.”

WMN: What could be the potential downsides to fully-digitized ships? How do the cyber threats fit into the equation, and what solutions are being considered to fight them?

Grell: With ships and mobile offshore units becoming increasingly connected and reliant on software-dependent systems, cyber security emerges as a key property needing attention in order to control operational and safety risks. Both unforeseen system issues and the human element present significant challenges to our industry. For example, how do we train more than a million seafarers to correctly use all the systems we provide them with? How do we secure that they continue to have ownership of the data, of what happens on board? And then there is a data management issue: can the quality of the data that we increasingly base decisions on be assured? How will larger and larger data volumes be prepared, stored, accessed and protected?

Maintaining the integrity and resilience of critical cyber-physical systems therefore requires a holistic approach to both safety and security. Owners and operators are now seriously contemplating third-party verification of their assets’ cyber security, whether during new build construction or for vessels in operation. This is an area where we foresee increased demand over the next few years as the industry gains awareness of the vulnerabilities and related cyber threats to their business.

To help the industry address potential cyber hazards, DNV GL has published a Recommended Practice (RP) on “Cyber Security Resilience Management”. The RP provides guidance on risk assessment, general improvements to cyber security, and the verification of security improvements and management systems.

“The RP covers some of the most common threats to maritime assets, such as vulnerabilities in the electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS), the manipulation of AIS tracking data, as well as jamming and spoofing of GPS and other satellite-based tracking systems.

It differentiates between unintentional infections and targeted threats. Unintentional infections include incidents such as software infections through malware as well as weaknesses in software, which can be caused by the misconfiguration of equipment and software, or faulty software designs. Targeted threats include external cyber-attacks by hackers, who can infiltrate systems through phishing, social engineering, or by exploiting weaknesses in control systems. This category also looks at the possibility of cyber-attacks by disgruntled employees and their ability to circumvent physical access controls,” Grell pointed out.

WMN: How is the workforce deployed aboard vessels influenced by a higher degree of digitalization? Are they ready to embrace this switch, and what will it mean in terms of education and training?

Grell: In many ways, crews are ahead, in terms of accepting and using digital technologies in their private lives to what they experience on board.

The openness to engage with these new technologies is increasing. But in terms of formal training and competence development there are still gaps. Take the issue of cyber security. Formal trainings have only recently emerged while the issue has been a challenge for some time now. A single-minded focus on the vessel in terms of digitalization is not sufficient though.

The most fundamental changes will hit the shore organization, as data analytics, managing distributed networks of sensors on board ships, setting up the respective systems are mainly a shore-side responsibility.

The transformation has to start on shore

The transformation has to start on shore: How is the data managed, stored and made available? How are insights generated from this information? Who in the organization can conduct advanced data analytics?

WMN: Has the installation of servers/server rooms onboard ships been an engineering challenge as existing ship designs do not envisage in their drafting stage a specific area for those types of systems?

Grell: We do not see the installation of servers on board vessels as a particular challenge at present. There area already IT equipment and servers onboard, which are typically installed in designated cabinets. And with time, we expect individual parts to become smaller, making space considerations even less of an issue.

It should be noted that normally the large amounts of data, which ships can collect, is stored and processed on servers at shore and not onboard the vessel itself. Therefore, the main issue here is being able to transfer data from ship to shore via remote satellite connections for example. In the future, we expect shipping to make more use of cloud-based technologies as well.

WMN: Should digitalization be included in the very design stage of new age ships, and if so, how can the shipbuilding industry be encouraged to move in that direction?

Grell: Absolutely. But I perceive the shipbuilding industry to be much more advanced and capable in this respect than some might think. We need to include the OEMs in this discussion – in many ways they are the ones driving the digitalization and they are doing so well.

World Maritime News Staff; Image Courtesy: Linkedin; DNV GL

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