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The Internet of Ships: a new design for Smart Ships

The Naval Architect: January 2017

If the marine industry wants to adapt to new technologies it must start with the design process and prepare vessels for the inclusion of new technologies throughout their development.
Shipbuilding has two well-defined and separate periods: the design phase and the operational life.

These periods can be sustained through working methodologies. Of particular note is systems engineering. Systems engineering appears to solve problems that need to be addressed in sectors with high added value, such as products for defense or aerospace engineering, which require strong design and construction processes from the very early stages to reduce costs, ensure planning and keep schedules within budget. Systems engineering requires the use of more specific technologies in order to be applied effectively.

CAD systems are traditionally used for the design and construction stage, and, in more recent times, PLM solutions have emerged providing valuable tools for product management. However, these tools require an enormous amount of information that must be provided during the ship design and construction project stages. It is therefore necessary to find a way to join these two technologies, CAD and PLM, so that all the value mutually contributed in a project is not lost. In this way, the PLM system must always be used as the unique source for the reference of data, while the CAD system must feed the PLM with its data – data that the PLM incorporates into its core. 

This said, it is only one side of the problem, and there are different technological trends emerging as the engines of great change. Among them, the Internet of Things (IoT) stands out because of its direct impact on the world we see and touch.

IoT challenges
Ships are small pieces of humanity at sea; they are like medium sized cities, medium industries, leisure places or whatever anyone imagines. All the necessities that a society can have shall be necessities on the ship. If the society progresses in some knowledge or technological area, sooner or later, the vessels will have to address that progress. It is obvious that IoT can provide many advantages for ships. However, specific risks have to be taken into account when anyone thinks of deploying the IoT for ships.

We can recognise several areas where IoT presents problems that need a common solution: security, standardisation and business orientation.

Security represents the most significant problem to be solved before bringing IoT to ships. Recent Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks by thousands of malicious software infected devices connected to the Internet, with more than 100,000 Mirai IoT botnet nodes bringing down services on Twitter, Paypal, and Spotify last October, ask questions of the reality of more connected ships: what could happen if a ship is waiting on responses from the internet in the middle of a storm, especially when thousands of people are onboard? Will safety be compromised? At present there are no guaranteed solutions, but several issues such as the identification of devices, protection against attack, control of updates, and redundancy will have to be considered.

The rapid growth of IoT has led to an uncontrolled growth of devices connected to the Internet through the separate system platforms of manufacturers. Each device manufacturer has built their own IoT solution by connecting their hardware to their cloud server to answer their requests. As the industry evolves, the need for a standard model to perform common IoT backend tasks is becoming more relevant.

The success of IoT will not go hand in hand with the early adopters, but with the companies, and this will only be possible if the initiatives have a clear component oriented in the business, that is to say to add a value. It is necessary to identify which of the initiatives provide a clear value to the business, but also to take into account that this value can be in various terms and not all directly economic. In the field of ships, there are many possibilities. The clearest ones have to do with the optimisation of energy costs, fuel consumption, choice of routes, safety at sea, but also in the work itself inside the ship or the security onboard.

How can the naval sector adapt itself to these changes, taking into account that it is a very conservative sector and in which changes take time to penetrate? The answer lies in putting the focus on its processes and accepting the value propositions that appear both in the product scope, as in the design and construction. This adaptation must take into account the entire value chain.

The contribution of a CAD System to the IoT
CAD tools are at the beginning of the product life cycle, but they also have a strong relationship with the production cycle, providing the information needed for construction in all aspects. Those CADs with a compact and homogeneous database can extend their contribution to both the lifecycle management tools and the IoT connectivity management application of the ship’s elements.

CAD applications will need to have certain characteristics to make all of this possible. A CAD system like SENER’s FORAN, for example, will need to evolve into a global solution that not only provides a CAD system, but also provides applications that manage the connection of devices and objects in the CAD model to IoT. In our view, the CAD system will not only be the heart of the design, but also the vehicle of communication between the products, their manufacturers and their operation. However, what characteristics turn a CAD system into a global design solution? To answer this, it is necessary to identify future technological trends, and amongst them connectivity stands as both the most obvious and most important, requiring a variety of approaches:

  • Connectivity of design systems
  • Connectivity of design and construction systems
  • Connectivity of ship systems to each other and to the world of IoT.

Connectivity of design systems
The design of a ship needs a diverse range of design applications. It seeks to optimise the product from different points of view, which requires design systems that, to a greater or lesser extent, need to be connected. They must be able to talk to one another, exchange data, models or forms, and necessitate data communication agreements through either APIs or common interfaces.

CAD exchange formats have extended their scope. The connection of CAD systems with product lifecycle management systems (PLM) has been indispensable in bringing value to the product itself. The PLM will not only be part of the design and construction stage, but will also extend to the operation of the ship. The PLM stands as the controller of the product where all valid information is kept. The different objects and equipment of the ship should not be autonomous entities that decide by themselves; they should instead be supervised by a system that takes into account the product as a whole.

Due to a vessel’s innate high value, as well as the value of its cargo, it cannot be left on the edge of technological autonomy considering the number of unpredictable circumstances a ship faces (sea conditions, piracy, etc.). It must have a higher controller and this responsibility must fall to personnel.

Connectivity of design and construction systems
Along the production process the communication between the shipyard and design office is constant and both must have updated information about the product and its building phase, opening up opportunities for interesting and increasingly viable new technologies that connect the two parties.

One development would make each of the assembly plans available for consultation from the workshop. The assemblies would have indelibly printed Quick Response (QR) codes that uniquely identify each of the elements, but can also incorporate identification or access to the assembly drawings. Video sequences would show how this assembly must be built, and mobile devices would read the QR code giving access to the mounting video.

CAD systems that have virtual reality solutions can perform these assembly sequences, record them and store them as part of the assembly information as made with the drawings. Workers may consult simultaneously or alternatively with this information, which circulates in the local network of the shipyard. However, it is necessary to ensure that the information has the appropriate level of confidentiality, providing security certificates for devices so that only those who have the appropriate level of security can access the corresponding information. This is one of the most important factors in military projects, but also applies to preserving a shipyard’s commercial knowledge.

The different parts to be mounted can incorporate their QR codes with the information described above, but can also incorporate Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or other location devices. These well-placed and secured devices will allow them to be located in the assembly line, which will in turn allow the controllers to know their finishing condition and therefore the progress of the construction. Obviously, these devices must have different characteristics compared with the simple RFID tags of the products existing in the stores. They must be sufficient, robust and have enough scope so that they can be detected in the workshop area of the assembly line. This information serves not only to know the progress of the construction, but also to support the management of materials and necessary purchases.

Ship systems connectivity and the world of IoT
Finally, there is the connectivity of devices using IoT. We understand that objects of a ship may have interesting applications when connected with the world of IoT, but such connectivity must be controlled and governed from within the vessel system as a whole and with human supervision. Such control will be simpler if the management applications of such a global solution have the necessary information and are capable of centralising connectivity.

For each of the elements that must participate in this ecosystem, the design system can define the information that should be shared, i.e. which sensors must be equipped in those connectable elements. The application will manage and centralise the information from connected elements and will be in charge of managing direct or indirect connectivity with the rest of the world.

The solution proposed by FORAN is the incorporation of a set of server applications that allow the linking of all the different levels of work around a unique and powerful relational database. Within the work levels are access to client applications, which allow 3D models to be created in the database or provide access to the server, including applications of design, visualisation and control, but also client applications for connected objects. These client applications will be designed to meet particular functions, and may transmit operational information, diagnosis, results, etc. This information is then handled by the server application that determines any action to take and then executes it. Diagnostic information can be transmitted to request maintenance actions or manage the results to take action on other elements or simply to provide information on the state of the devices and objects to the control systems or computers onboard.

A new concept: the Internet of Ships
Future Smart Ships must utilise IoT. However, the connecting of smart devices within a Smart Ship must ultimately be human-controlled, limiting the level of autonomy onboard. The control should start from the design tools because they control the shipbuilding process from the early stages of the design up to final production. The design tools, product lifecycle management and devices must be interconnected and will provide the platform for the Smart Ships connected to IoT. The information shared in the scope of the IoT must be managed by personnel along the whole lifecycle of the ship, starting from the beginning of the initial design, and this need requires the CAD tools to be prepared with specific characteristics to handle that information.

This new ecosystem, incorporating emerging technological trends that have been adapted to the specific environment of shipbuilding, will be the Internet of Ships.

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