The maritime industry is undergoing profound change. The result will be even more efficiency and service for customers.
A drone sends live images in 4-K-quality from the ballast tank which show the condition of the steel structures and their coatings. At the same time, the ship inspector provides additional pictures from the freely accessible areas by means of a helmet camera. Previously, mobile phone pictures from critical locations in the shaft tunnel had already been sent to the headquarters of the shipping company by the chief engineer. All images can be seen in the “digital twin” of the ship, a three-dimensional and detailed presentation on the computer of the shipping inspector. He can now discuss the necessary work in a video conference with the project manager of the shipyard. “This is the ship inspection of the future”, says Christof Cabos, expert on shipping 4.0 at the classification society DNV GL.
Similar to the “industry 4.0” in machinery and plant construction onshore, the digitalization wave has now also captured the maritime industry. Flagship projects attract public attention, such as “autonomous ships”, which the British technology group Rolls Royce, for example, wants to send on a journey without a crew in a few years. But the changes go much deeper. “Given the cost pressure in shipping, we will time and again have to redefine our entire work processes, our work methods and our service to offer our customers a highly efficient service,” says Guido Försterling, CEO of German Dry Docks.
Greater flexibility and greater mobility
In just a few years, digital technologies will make a decisive contribution to shorten the breaks of journey for ships and reduce the cost of inspection, maintenance and repair. One of the leading developers of the necessary techniques and instruments is the German-Norwegian DNV GL. Worldwide, around 400 experts of the classification society are already directly accessible to the customers via e-mail or mobile phones, also from the sea, in order to offer rapid assistance with more than 1000 topics: “Our reaction time is less than 24 hours,” says Cabos.
Soon, customers will also be able to reach DNV GL via an app on their smartphone directly from on board and clarify the respective request with photos from the built-in camera. In addition to the preparation of shipyard stays, repairs and class visits, Cabos sees another benefit. If the US Coast Guard, for example, inspects a ship far off the coast and refuses permission to enter the port because of an unclear technical situation on board, “we can examine the area in question and give a corresponding statement to the Coast Guard”.
With the drone through the shaft tunnel
The DNV GL sees the next stage in the development in the use of drones during ship inspection. Their use may facilitate, for example, the inspection of the upper portions of large cargo spaces of bulkers. “At the moment, we have to put a lot of effort into building scaffolding so that the inspector can see the ceiling area,” says Cabos. “This costs time and money.” A flying camera, on the other hand, gets to the remotest corner within a very short time and delivers high-resolution images. Until then, however, complex challenges had to be solved. Drones are usually navigated using GPS. “There is no reception inside the steel walls of a ship,” says Cabos. Meanwhile, the development of autonomous drones for indoor use is so advanced that the DNV GL has already tried out the first flights through a shaft tunnel and inside ballast tanks.
Other tools for shipping 4.0 include imaging systems ranging from the helmet camera for the inspector to 3-D images, with the aid of which an entire vessel can be mapped from the inside. The image information is linked by the DNV GL with three-dimensional animations of the construction plans to form a “digital twin” of the ship. In this electronic twin, current pictures and even cam shots can be integrated with the smartphone. At the same time, the system saves information on work carried out in the past: “This gives us the perfect overview of all the information needed to assess a particular situation,” stresses Cabos. Meanwhile there are 100 ships which have a digital twin onshore.
“The whole industry needs a change of thinking”
The developments of the DNV Gl are currently regarded as leading the technical development on the way to shipping traffic 4.0. However, they are mainly geared towards the work of a classification society and ship inspection. “But he whole industry needs a change of thinking,” explains Guido Försterling, “that’s why we set the course for repair 4.0. “ Flexibility and mobility are among the most important factors: “We go where the customer is, and do not wait for him to come to us.” A good preparation of assignments is essential for Försterling. This is why GDD operates on the principle of “one-face-to-the-customer” with only one contact through all project phases: “This ensures an optimal processing of an assignment.” The goal of all German Dry Docks Group employees is to shorten breaks of journey for ships as much as possible.
At the same time, Försterling has a firm grip on costs: “We will continue to work according to German quality standards. But on the cost side, we want to be able to compete on a global scale,” is his credo. For him, shipping 4.0 means not only the digitization of the industry: ” An even greater internationalization of the maritime industry is the inevitable side effect. And that’s what we have to face.”
Laserscan Machine room