Digitalisation of fleets, dematerialisation, sustainability: three key topics at the Sea Asia 2021 conference
The digital transformation of the maritime sector is already well underway, as explained by Stéphane Courquin, Head of CMA CGM APAC, as part of the introductory roundtable to the day: “The search for solutions to limit the time spent by ships in ports, to optimise navigation and to modernise procedures is underway.”
However, he also recognised that there remains much to do: “Unlike other sectors, maritime transport is still in the early transformative stages.” He came to the conclusion that, “the maritime transport sector offers numerous opportunities for innovation.”
Included in these many opportunities, the speakers of Sea Asia Conference 2021 noted in particular the three following subjects.
1 / Digitisation of fleets for the real-time monitoring of ships and goods
“Connected boats will become a reality and we must invest in the infrastructure”, insisted Captain Rajesh Unni, the Founder and CEO of Synergy Marine Group. The challenge we face is to equip ships and containers with as many IoT sensors as possible so that we can transmit information in real time. Once the data has been collected, it then becomes a question of using it in a relevant manner, for example to optimise routes, maintenance, safety and fuel consumption. In this respect, artificial intelligence is a valuable ally.
In order to obtain the full potential from digitising the fleets, shipowners “must consider this to be a structural change and not just as something that we add in addition”, believes the Captain, who admits that even if the benefit of connecting the fleets is obvious, its technical implementation is complex: “We still have clients who manage thousands of ships using Excel files”. He explained that the installation in particular of sensors and data exchange solutions on ships faces numerous constraints that do not exist on land, specifically in terms of connectivity. Despite all of that, in his opinion, the main obstacle that remains is principally human and cultural: “It will take years to change the culture”.
Several start-ups that have been incubated or accelerated by ZEBOX have already chosen to tackle this difficult problem. This is notably the case with Eyegauge, who have an ambition of developing the digitalisation of fleets by making all of the ships, irrespective of their age, into smart ships, while 30% of bulk carriers, 50% of container ships and 70% of cargo ships in the world are over 10 years old. Their solution allows for accurate reporting on performance and fuel consumption in terms of savings and efficient planning.
Swiss startup Aeler focuses on digitizing containers: based on Artificial Intelligence, their solution combines sensors and software that collate information in real time on the quality of the transport and the condition of the cargo. Benefits include an increase in payload, better protection for the cargo, as well as a huge reduction in terms of the environmental impact.
2 / The automated and dematerialized exchange of documents and information, particularly via the blockchain
“Put an end to paper!” This is the heartfelt cry from Stéphane Courquin when he was asked about what he wanted to see for the future of maritime transport. The dematerialization of customs and commercial procedures is in fact a key subject for the entire sector, being a source of time savings and efficiency in trade. “The widespread adoption of the EBL – Electronic Bill of Lading – is a means by which we will be able to save precious time during administrative procedures”, explained the manager of CMA CGM APAC.
Due to a lack of interoperability between information systems and a common standard for sharing data, while dematerialization is effective, it has not, however, simplified everything. Ampy Aswin, APAC Supply Chain & Logistics Industry Solutions Director at Google Cloud, is regretful that “everything still happens in silos within closed systems. We need to have standards”. So what does she think the main cause of this fragmentation is? “It’s the fear of the unknown that slows down digital transformation”.
Blockchain technology will not solve the fear of the unknown, but could provide an answer to those necessary issues of trust and transparency between the different actors that are involved. “Blockchain and distributed ledgers can bring about exchanges,” said the representative from Google. This is an opinion that Casper Ellerbaek, the Senior Vice President at Sea Logistics Asia Pacific at Kuehne + Nagel Asia Pacific, does not share: “For the moment, this is predominantly an information storage solution. In the future, blockchain will have to rely on APIs in order to better integrate and transfer data.”
Another startup that is supported by ZEBOX, eTEU, has developed a blockchain-based commercial documentation platform in order to achieve dematerialized management of all documents that are related to international shipments. The startup estimates that $200 billion is lost each year in administrative costs, while nearly one in ten shipping documents have been incorrectly completed.
3 / Reducing the environmental impact of maritime transport as a result of data
The collection, use and automated exchange of data is interesting in terms of the operational efficiency of maritime commerce, but this ongoing transformation will also play a key role in reducing the carbon footprint of the sector. “In 2022 and afterwards, decarbonisation will be the main topic. You can only do this with Big Data”, said Ken Loke, the Vice President for Asia-Pacific, KVH Industries, by way of example.
The most successful use case in this area is the reduction of fuel consumption by optimizing the speed of ships and routes as enabled by data analysis. Other use cases of artificial intelligence are being deployed, for example at a port level so that energy production, storage and consumption can be optimised through the use of “smart grids”, or to guarantee worker safety.
Within the ZEBOX ecosystem, many start-ups are already providing solutions that will reduce the carbon footprint of logistics and maritime trade.
This is particularly the case with the startup Searoutes. They provide shippers with an all-in-one solution to reduce their carbon footprint in relation to the transport of goods. As a result of this solution, shippers can reduce their CO2 emissions by 30% without increasing the length of delays.
Sinay, for its part, provides a platform that allows data to be aggregated from multiple sources (position of ships, weather, currents, fauna, flora etc.) and to analyze it using AI so that environmental performance indicators can be determined and decision support tools can be provided. Sinay therefore saves over 60% of the time required to process and analyze environmental data.
“We know that by digitizing things, we will be more efficient. We also know that anything that saves fuel or energy is good news for the company and for the planet”, said Angela Noronha, Director of Open Innovation and Decarbonization at Rainmaking Transport. They also flagged up the next transformation for the sector: “Sustainable development is no longer a separate issue. Very soon, it will become the very heart of a business.”