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Big role for Big Data in marine technology applications

By Matt Hodson, Marine Hub Operations Director, Cornwall Development Company

The use of Big Data has now progressed to the stage where it is finding applications in many aspects of industry – and marine technology is no exception.

Due to many advances in sensor technology and communications, modern ships are now able to gather vast quantities of data about their operations, much of it available in real time. Businesses are now looking to Big Data to help identify new ways to manage their operations, increase efficiencies and help drive up profitability.

These are just some of the applications of Big Data that are currently being explored in the maritime industry:

Fuel management: It is now possible to use Big Data to investigate the conditions in which a ship operates most efficiently, in order to improve performance and optimise fuel consumption. Fuel savings are a major profit driver for international shipping fleets.

Route optimisation: With the wealth of data that is now available, this is enabling much more sophisticated route planning, which can take into account highly detailed analysis of sea conditions and weather factors. It also means that alternative routes can be quickly activated, if there are adverse events that affect the primary route. Big Data can also help cargo ships plan their optimum order of destinations to be visited throughout their route, to achieve the most efficient unloading of their cargo. Similarly, in the future port authorities will be able to access a ship’s data in order to help with traffic management in port and to oversee more effective unloading of a ship’s cargo.

Maintenance: Coupled with the latest sensor technology, Big Data can offer new ways of monitoring conditions throughout the ship and highlighting when maintenance is needed. It can also go one step further by using analytics to predict when future maintenance will be required and therefore help to avoid the failure of vital machinery. This will improve operational efficiency and save time and costs for fleet operators.

Safety: Despite recent advances in safety, there are still more than 2,000 deaths at sea each year, and most of these occur on cargo vessels. Real time Big Data analysis of sensor information can help alert crews to safety hazards at sea, both on their own vessel and when there is a potential collision imminent. It can also play a role in the analysis of collisions and accidents at sea, so that future working practices and safety procedures can be improved.

Compliance: The laws governing commercial shipping are becoming more complex and demanding. Big Data will be able to help operators to record and process the data that they need to demonstrate compliance, while also highlighting potential compliance risk areas that need to be addressed and improved.

Cargo management: Every year there are hundreds of containers lost at sea, and the reasons for this are not always clear. As well as the financial cost, operators have to invest significant amounts of time investigating these incidents, and may face legal penalties. Placing sensors in containers and using Big Data to analyse the factors in operation when they were lost will help companies to take preventative action to reduce these incidents in the future.

Autonomous ships: As the industry moves to a position where autonomous ships become a real possibility, Big Data has the power to provide all the information needed about routes and sea conditions that will make self-piloting more effective, while also gathering data from every new voyage so that a ship’s performance can be continually improved.

Power management: Modern ships are moving to more complex systems of power management, such as hybrid propulsion systems which create power that can be stored in batteries for future use. “Powering down” to conserve fuel in calm waters is now a common practice to save fuel. The regulation of emissions from commercial shipping is likely to get tighter in the future. All this creates a complex picture for the management of fuel and power systems, another area where Big Data can help.

 In January 2018, Market Research Hub issued a new report on the Global Marine Big Data Market. They estimate that this market will grow at an impressive compound annual growth rate of more than 21% over the next eight years. By 2025, this will create a global market with a value of $3.2 billion.

It is clear that we are in the early stages of a revolution in the way Big Data is used in the maritime industry. Marine technology businesses in Cornwall are well positioned to take advantage of the new opportunities that this will create.