For many years now, MacGregor has been one of the stalwarts of marine equipment; it’s estimated that every second vessel in the global fleet has some form of its cargo load handling solutions, lashing systems or hatch covers onboard.
But the company, a subsidiary of Finland’s Cargotec, is keen to emphasise these are just part of a portfolio of services.
“We’re transforming the business at the moment,” explains Robin Thuillier, MacGregor’s director of communications. “Cargo handling equipment remains our core, but we’re looking to introduce digitally enabled capability and that means becoming an intelligent cargo load handling provider.”
Thuillier, however, is conscious of the cynicism such nebulous ambitions can provoke. “I have a view that the industry is largely fed up with ‘intelligent this’ and ‘smart that’ and want to see the tangibles, particularly in a depressed market where owners are struggling to make money with the cost of the sulphur cap and ballast water treatment systems.”
MacGregor is therefore putting its emphasis on providing products and services that can offer a quick return on investment while enhancing its digital technology capability – with a little help from its friends. As part of Rainmaking Trade and Transport Impact, a global programme that sees established transportation and logistics companies joining forces with newer players, it has partnered with four startups on a range of projects.
Among these is Arundo, a US/Norwegian data analytics company that has collaborated in the development of MacGregor’s OnWatch Scout, a digital service designed to help its customers predict component failure. It’s an extension of MacGregor’s existing OnWatch service, which uses sensors installed on equipment to relay information back to land-based monitoring systems. OnWatch is currently installed on approximately 140 offshore cranes worldwide but should be extended to merchant ships over the next 12-18 months.
“OnWatch is a reactive tool, so if an alarm goes off, we can advise how to correct it and send software patches. OnWatch Scout makes that proactive with algorithms and advanced learning, so we’re able to predict component failure. That’s where Arundo comes in as they’re handling the data analytical work that’s beyond our core expertise.”
Daniel Lundberg, director of MacGregor’s offshore business line, says one of the challenges is building up the system’s artificial intelligence, which is by necessity a slow process. “As with all machine learning you have to train the models.
“First, it’s about applying the base layers of these capabilities to show the asset health information, the operational KPIs and then building up the predictive warnings to create a hybrid of condition-based information. Then we can draw comparisons and establish the relationship between the different sensors.”
Another service MacGregor offers, which Thuillier calls a “little-known secret” is Cargo Boost, where the company works directly with customers on existing containerships. “They may have changed their operations, so that the original design profile isn’t optimal for what they want to do now. We work with the owner-operator to optimise the go-forward operating profile. Typically, that’s planned six months ahead of a dry docking, and implemented at that stage, although smaller ones can be done while the ship is in service.
“We’ve done around 100 upgrades in the last three years and on average we can realise a 10-15% increase in container capacity. That can be achieved just by a redesign in the lashing system and the ability to stack 20ft containers on top of 40ft ones. Through that the owner gets increased cargo capacity and more efficiency. Hapag-Lloyd, UASC and MSC are some of the customers who’ve invested in it.”