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May 2016 Issue

Data-Driven Approach for a New, Smarter Era
Tim Schweikert
From the first Macedonian boats that sailed the Earth some 5,000 years ago to modern ships measuring several football fields in size, the marine sector has had its fair share of industry-defining transformations.

While the shipping industry enjoyed steady growth starting from 2008, before peaking in 2012, the industry seemed to be a safe bet for years to come as operators added capacity and upgraded fleets to satisfy growing demands. This expansion ultimately led to widespread overcapacity, which, coupled with a downturn in global trade and unfavorable commodity prices, has resulted in fierce competition within the marine sector.

Competition is also being intensified with the entry of new players. While Europe still dominates as the ship-owning region, with close to 45 percent of the world’s fleet, the Asia-Pacific region has boosted its investment. In 2015 alone, its share of the global vessel fleet grew from just over 30 percent to 40 percent.

The impact of the economic slowdown will continue to reverberate across the marine industry. As a result, there is a need to manage costs—optimizing operations for vessel operators and constructing more efficient ships that are also sustainable. For offshore operators, GE estimates that a 20 to 30 percent cost reduction can be achieved through changes in both project management and supply chain management, but more is needed.

Alongside these challenges, the industry as a whole will be preparing for an impending skills gap, as a high proportion of skilled workers will reach retirement age over the next five to 10 years.

The marine sector is challenged more than ever. Disruptive technologies are needed to enable the next transformative change that could help solve these problems and define the future of the marine industry.

We live in a connected world of interacting smart devices that have been dramatically changing the way we live and the world that we live in. Yet, with these technology advancements, the marine industry is not close to being as connected as it could be.

This can primarily be attributed to the industry’s reluctance to take risks. In the marine industry, the skills, infrastructure and culture are all wedded to a certain way of working. However, with growth being hit by economic or geopolitical turmoil, the cost of carrying on as usual is too high.

The opportunity of digitalization is enormous, and the potential of a connected industry could be as transformative as the leap from using steam turbines to hybrid solutions. In an industry where annual losses to the tune of $12 million can be attributed to a single drillship’s yearly unplanned downtime, and where 40 percent of a transport vessel’s operating cost can be imputed to its fuel consumption, a marginal improvement in efficiency can lead to measurable savings for the industry.

Efficiency can be gained through design. Advanced software analytics can allow engineers to collaborate with marine designers to design a ship that is optimized for its intended use. Through real-time comparisons of the performance of different equipment configurations, analytic tools can help design and configure optimal power, propulsion and electrical solutions to match a vessel’s specific requirements. The annual operational expenditure incurred by the vessel design can be instantly calculated against an operating profile. Engineers and designers can therefore be informed to make better decisions on equipment selections to help minimize fuel consumption and achieve further savings.

For example, in a recent design investigation at GE’s SeaLab, careful system design reduced the installed power requirement by 25 percent compared to the baseline design, making it possible for vessels to operate with smaller engines and thereby reducing capex and fuel costs, while increasing payload within the hull.

Cutting-edge manufacturing processes could also be combined with data collected from the vessels to develop improved product design. At GE, we call this the “Brilliant Factory.”

These technologies have the potential to transform every shipyard. Yard equipment and software will talk to each other over the Internet in real time, share information and inform or make automated decisions that will help ensure world-class quality while avoiding costly plant shutdowns. This could eventually help shipbuilders conceive cost-effective, fit-for-purpose vessels.

When at sea, advanced analytic tools can harness data to show real-time asset health, as well as to provide valuable insights, such as predictivity. A “digital twin” can be built based on a vessel’s operational data collected over two years or more. By comparing asset to asset, vessel to vessel from this “digital twin,” the analytic tool can search for anomalies and therefore inform potential failures. Proactively resolving failures before they occur will help enable the industry to make the shift from prescriptive to predictive maintenance.

The industry must come together to act and embrace this change. It would require a data-driven approach throughout the value chain, be it design, manufacturing, operations or maintenance, to be taken within the industry.

For the marine industry, change may seem daunting. However, once embraced, the change will be greater than the sum of its parts and prove to be the next transformative shift for the industry.


Tim Schweikert graduated from Marquette University in 1984 with a bachelor’s of science in mechanical engineering. Upon graduation, he joined GE Aviation, eventually assuming various leadership roles across GE businesses. In January 2015, he became president and CEO of GE’s Marine Solutions business, bringing GE’s commercial and technological expertise into the marine sector.


2016:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY
2015:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.