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Better ship connectivity is going to be a building process

The Naval Architect January 2021

Watch Hero 031020While  the  past  year  has  raised  all  manner  of  complications  for  the  maritime industry,  it’s  fair  to  say  that  it  has  also  represented  an  opportunity  for  digital  services  to  not only prove their worth, but also highlight that there might actually be a better way of doing things.

 

“The  pandemic  has  been  a  business  trigger  and  there  are  certainly  downsides,”  Sven-Eric  Brooks,  KVH Industries'  senior director for Internet of Things (IoT) business development,  tells  The  Naval Architect.  “We’re  also  a  content  provider;  we  have  a  mobile  connectivity  business  where we provide movies and music to the crew for their wellbeing, so we care greatly for the people onboard.” 

 

“But in other areas, such as IoT, Covid has challenged shipping companies in how to trade their assets remotely and monitor them.  So  it  has  moved  from  a  rather optimistic way of accessing a vessel to more or less the standard modus operandi.”

 

However, when  it  comes  to  ship  design,  there  are  additional  challenges  to  the  implementation  of  the  connected  ship  that shipyards and naval architects must contend with in transporting data around the  vessel.  The  steel  of  the  hull  and  bulkheads  can  lead  to  electromagnetic  interference  and  frequently  there  are  either too few wireless access points or too many, which can lead to noise. Added   to   that,   retrieving   sensor   information from an older vessel creates huge  challenges  with  the  technology  itself, given that little thought was given back then to providing open interfaces or ensuring the data was accessible. 

 

Brooks believes that many vessels built today  are  still  not  being  designed  with  network connectivity and communication in mind. In many cases, the IoT that has been implemented via retrofit is confined to  limited  areas  of  the  vessel,  where  wireless connectivity is viable, because a wired solution is cost prohibitive.

 

Newbuilding design offers the  opportunity  to  integrate  IoT  from  the  outset and he thinks maritime can learn a lot from land-based architecture. “If you look at buildings, there has been a rapid change from the standard office block to one  which  is  connected  and  automated.  Whereas in the past they used to be based on  simple  Cat  4  or  Cat  5  cables  we  now  need to look at other options such as Cat 7 or fibre optic cables, because they’re the ones which provide the data throughput that’s required for high-end users, which vessels are.”

 

Although  system  integration  should,  by  rights,  be  at  the  heart  of  modern  ship design,  less  than  10%  of  shipyards  currently include service as part of their shipbuilding contracts.  While  being  a  tried  and  tested  business  model,  it  contrasts  with  the  growing  emphasis  in  other  sectors  on  the  total  cost  of  ownership  with  built-in  service  plans.  When  it  comes  to  delivering  the  ‘IoT  ready’ vessel increasingly demanded by a growing number of shipowners, providing a completely networked system, with the servicing commitment that might entail, requires a more holistic approach.

 

Brooks  says:  “When  you  look  at  a  vessel  from  a  data  perspective  you  find  there  are  various  subsets.  There’s  the  navigation bubble, the automation bubble, the  power  and  propulsion  systems,  and  the  environmentals  (e.g.  ballast  water  treatment  and  scrubbers).  Each  of  these  areas  is  dominated  by  large  suppliers  that  provide  a  completely  self-contained  networked system. But   these   systems   need   to   be   connected  and  then  the  question  arises  whether you’re going to do that wired or wirelessly. When you look at the amount of data, plus the need in many areas now for video support, the real way to do this is a wired solution.

 

“[In the future] we might see shipyards building up their own services capabilities, where  the  yard  takes  a  more  active  role  either throughout the warranty period or even  beyond.  The  shipyard  is  obviously  the  authority,  understanding  what  piece  of equipment was built where and having access  to  all  the  drawings  and  wiring  diagrams.  

 

"They’re  sitting  on  a  wealth  of  information that they can make available to their end customers. This could create entirely new business models and lead to some interesting opportunities.”

 

For the full article please see the January 2021 edition of The Naval Architect.