Industry 4.0 on high seas

Global economy
Global economy

If you still associate Industry 4.0 with nothing more than factories and industrial finishing, think again. A generally accepted definition of Industry 4.0 is as follows: Networking of IT systems with facilities and the automatic exchange of information between individual units using modern communication technology. And this is what can now be seen in many industries, including those on the high seas. In this context, the term "smart shipping" is often used in contrast with the term "smart factory".

A ship fitted with the latest information technology demonstrates clear parallels with the factory of the future. Complex IT systems form the basis for new solutions which constantly exchange data with one another, reducing operating costs through more efficient management and making the crew's life on board more comfortable. In order to improve crew safety onboard ships with specialist tasks (naval or research vessels), position finding systems can be implemented which present an automatic, anonymised quantitative overview of the crew's current location. Movement data and other information can be documented in a revision-safe format and historical trends can be tracked.

Scenarios of this type are realised by ANS Active Network Sea Systems GmbH, a specialist provider founded in 2008 to provide customers with maritime hardware and software solutions.

Given the significant global competition in the shipping and offshore sectors, it is critical for businesses to quickly identify and implement new trends. With the diverse opportunities arising from Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things and Big Data technology, more and more businesses in the shipping industry and the offshore and wind park sectors are engaging with these subjects. "For shipping lines, making use of Industry 4.0 to increase their own added value is becoming a competitive factor", explained Dennis Jahnhofen, member of the executive board at ANS Active Network Sea Systems GmbH.

New IT infrastructures required

Historically, IT infrastructure onboard ships has not attracted much attention. Typically, there were simply standard IT workstations on which programs were installed. IT was seen less as an opportunity and more as a burden. Since Industry 4.0 technologies - also known as "smart shipping" - cannot be used with conventional IT infrastructures, the first step is generally to renovate the whole system. ANS supports its customers every step of the way in this process, from consulting and strategic planning to implementation, realisation, startup and later operations.

In the future, ships will be seen as individual commercial units. As such, they require a standardised, redundant IT infrastructure consisting of a server, storage and a network (active and passive) as has been used in data centres for many years. This will first reduce the ship's ongoing servicing, operating and downtime costs (operational expenditure). Above all, however, this will create the foundation for using new "smart shipping" solution concepts, for automating business processes, and for implementing an overarching management system.

Automatically analyse the entire fleet

Implementing such a solution requires processes between businesses and commercial units to be harmonised, enabling the development of a comprehensive solution design. All evaluable ship operating data is stored locally and synchronised on a regular basis with the shipping line's central database. This data can be used to generate regular automated analyses of the entire fleet, comparing the efficiency of different ships and making improvements where necessary.

Crew welfare is a factor that should not be underestimated when considering efficient and successful ship operations. WiFi can help to easily improve the crew's wellbeing. The connection is managed by the ship's central IT solution. Crew members can go online at any time, chat with their family, use social media and streaming services, and more. Ship operators can freely define the capacity available for free to each crew member - if they use all of it, the crew member can increase their allowance at their own cost.

Such offerings make shipping lines more interesting employers and increase their chances of attracting qualified employees and therefore enabling efficient ship operations. New information, updates, security settings or other guidelines can be distributed across the entire fleet in a standardised fashion using a single click in the management console.

Standard hardware inside certified housing

IT solutions used in areas with strict safety and availability requirements such as landfall safety or navigation must receive authorisation for their use on ships from an official certifying authority such as Germanischer Lloyd or Bureau Veritas. Acquiring such authorisation can be a costly and time-intensive process. This is why MarinerSystems offers specially finished and certified housings such as its "MarinerKits". Already certified with the proper permissions, these kits allow the use of standard (HP) workstations, PCs and monitors. The use of standard hardware enables the introduction of a centralised management system and the standardisation of servicing and maintenance, further reducing costs from normal operations and outages.