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Five future trends in the shipping industry

By Leo McLeman, Marine Challenge Fund Lead, Cornwall Development Company.

The shipping industry is continually changing and adapting to meet the needs of the commercial marketplace, so that it can become more competitive and cost-effective. It is a huge and complex industry, which is constantly being affected by global trends and by advances in technology, materials and fuels.

Here are five future trends that perfectly illustrate some of the dynamic changes that are happening in the shipping industry and the new opportunities that these create for marine manufacturing businesses.

 

1. Digital sensoring

The technology for monitoring ship operations and performance has been steadily increasing in its sophistication. Ships of the future will have a complete network of sensors to measure all aspects of operations, including detecting faults and identifying areas needing maintenance or repair. Allied to this, increasingly powerful ship to shore communications will mean that most aspects of the ship’s operation can be controlled by a land-based team of fleet managers.

 

2. Bigger megaships

Improvements in ship technology, structure and materials will lead to even bigger megaships, particularly within the container shipping industry. Completed in March this year, the MOL Triumph is the world’s largest container ship. It measures 400m long (for comparison, The Shard building in London is 310m tall). This giant ship will carry up to 20,150 TEU containers. Manufacturers will seek to take advantage of the lower transport costs that these vessels can provide by gearing their production to make the most efficient use of this container space.

 

3. Greener shipping

There is constant pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of the world’s shipping fleets, and this will only increase into the future. A whole host of technologies are being explored including low carbon fuels, more streamlined hulls, more efficient propeller design, improved voyage planning to make savings on fuels, better hull coatings and even air cushions to reduce friction. 

 

4. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel

There is growing interest in the potential of LNG as a fuel for commercial shipping. Those who support LNG believe it can help operators to meet their targets for reduced emissions, while also being competitive on price. CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to 25% when compared with diesel engines. While conventional oil-based fuels will continue to dominate in the near future, there is likely to be increased adoption of LNG for specialist vessels, which gives an opportunity for the technology to be proved and developed on a larger scale.

 

5. Solar and wind power for ships

The shipping industry is exploring renewable energy to power the fleets of the future. Some of this technology is already being trialled and tested. The Turanor PlanetSolar is a catamaran powered by 29,000 solar cells which has successfully circumnavigated the globe. However, the likeliest application for this technology in commercial shipping will be systems that reduce fuel consumption by supplementing the existing power supply with on-board wind turbines or solar panels.

 

An exciting future for marine technology

These are just some of the trends that are making marine technology such an exciting and challenging field to be working in at present. The many tough technological problems that our shipping industry is grappling with make marine technology a real land of opportunity for businesses of all sizes. At Marine-i we are finding it really inspiring to be working alongside some of the most innovative people in marine technology and helping them to turn their bright ideas into commercial reality.