The maritime industry is the backbone of global trade and commerce, carrying over 90% of goods of all types across the world. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a significant surge in e-commerce, leading to a higher demand for efficient and cost-effective sea transportation services. Furthermore, the maritime sector is increasingly focusing on reducing its environmental impact. To achieve this, digital technologies are unavoidable. During this year 2023, they will drive some exciting innovations in the maritime industry, to enhance the sector’s sustainability and efficiency and to cater to ever-growing customers’ requirements.
Which recent technological innovations will have the most significant impact on the maritime industry in 2023?
In recent years, digital transformation has become imperative, compelling companies of all economic sectors to adapt. The maritime industry has witnessed significant technological innovations, leading to a ripple effect across the entire supply chain. Digital platforms for ship and cargo tracking, as well as the implementation of digital communication and collaboration tools, have become commonplace in the industry. But other innovative solutions stand out, presenting exciting opportunities in various areas. These aim to make the shipping faster, safer, more efficient, and greener.
Robotics and automation
Robotics technology has the potential to alleviate humans from monotonous, hazardous, physically demanding, or heavy work. In port terminals, automated cargo handling systems are contributing to fast and efficient operations, lower risk of human errors, reduced emissions, and minimized waiting times at anchor or at the quay for ships. For example, autonomous cranes are deployed in all major ports in the United States, Canada, Asia (China, Singapore, India…), Europe (UK, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands…), Australia, etc.
The development of robotics technology also aims to address labor shortages and improve overall productivity compared to manual operations.
Big data and analytics
The entire supply chains generate large amounts of data that are collected and analyzed to review and improve usages and processes, by creating patterns, identifying trends, and take well-founded decisions. For instance, data-driven insights can be harnessed for the following tasks:
Internet of Things (IoT)
Connected sensors placed on trucks, vessels, advanced navigation systems, or other equipment transmit various data such as location, speed, and functions, through dedicated software, continuously or at a predefined frequency. Combined with GPS and satellite observation, this information is used to track shipments, to plan operations at the next port of call.
IoT also plays a key role in predictive maintenance by utilizing historical and real-time data along with a system of alerts to immediately inform concerned teams when an anomaly occurs. This reduces response time and avoids time-consuming repairs.
Advanced Monitoring System
The advanced monitoring systems used in the maritime industry are designed to constantly monitor the state of the environment in real-time (air and water quality, weather patterns, and vessel traffic).
These systems use a combination of sensors, satellite imagery, and other technologies to collect and analyze data about the ocean and surrounding environment.
The data collected by these systems is then used to create detailed maps and models of the ocean and to alert ship operators and authorities about potential environmental hazards or emergencies. This information can help prevent pollution and protect marine ecosystems, while also reducing the costs associated with clean-up efforts in the event of an environmental disaster.
Artificial and Augmented Intelligence
Artificial intelligence has become an indispensable tool for thriving in the era of digital services. At Sinay, our AI-based modules help maritime industry professionals calculate ETA for any vessel worldwide, monitor air/water quality, assess underwater noise, etc.
Artificial intelligence is also vital to move towards smart ports, combined with 5G connection, Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain technology. The ports of Los Angeles, Rotterdam, Quebec, Le Havre, Hamburg, Shanghai, and Singapore, among others, show how technology is making digital transformation a reality, bringing efficiency, transparency, and sustainability.
Cloud and SaaS
Working mobile has become the norm, especially since the pandemic. All business applications and information have to be accessible anytime and anywhere on any connected device, using a cloud-based computing system. This increases flexibility, effectiveness, and responsiveness.
Moreover, data sharing is key to ensuring smooth communication, operations, or vessel/truck fleet management between remote sites, or even between sailing vessels and shore-based teams. Being on the same level of information allows quick and relevant decision-making.
Autonomous ships will revolutionize the ocean transportation industry. Using an array of technologies including sensors, cameras, and advanced algorithms, these vessels can operate and navigate without human intervention. Beyond cost savings, autonomous technologies offer:
- improved safety due to their ability to detect and avoid collisions,
- reduced fuel consumption,
- optimized scheduling and routing that leads to shorter and more reliable delivery times.
As the demand for sustainability in the maritime industry grows, there is an increasing focus on alternative fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), biofuels, hydrogen, and ammonia to reduce the sector’s reliance on fossil fuels and the carbon footprint of vessels.
Additionally, technological solutions that improve energy efficiency, both in machinery (such as propulsion systems) and onboard vessels (including lighting and other appliances), are being explored. Moreover, since January 2023, the shipping industry undergoes a significant regulatory change with the introduction of the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) measurement, which will be mandatory for each ship, as part of the yearly assessment of their carbon intensity indicator (CII). Both aim at promoting more sustainable and energy-efficient practices.
Similarly, advancements in ship design, the use of ecological materials, and the development of hull coatings can all help to reduce fuel consumption and pollutant emissions, contributing to a greener future for the maritime industry and a healthier planet for us all.
Renewable marine energy
Renewable energies are playing an increasingly important role in the shift towards sustainable practices. Although some are still in their early stages, the following energy innovations have led to emission-free power sources, helping to decrease carbon dioxide emissions and reliance on diesel generators:
- Wind turbines: these large, vertical sails installed on ships rotate to catch the wind from different directions and transform wind power into electricity. The largest wind farms in the world are seen in China, the United States, India, and the United Kingdom. Speaking about offshore farms, Hornsea 2, located 89 km off the UK’s coast, is the world’s largest.
- Solar panels: they capture solar rays and heat to generate electricity for the vessels’ onboard systems. Thanks to 328 solar panels that generate electricity for its main electrical grid, the M/V Auriga Leader, a huge commercial ship currently docked at the Port of Long Beach in California, has become the first ocean liner to partially rely on solar power for propulsion.
- Hydrogen fuel cells: for large ships, the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen is used for electricity production.
Wave and tidal power generators: using the perpetual motion of the waves or tides, such installations have the potential to provide a significant amount of renewable energy.
This technology allows the creation of physical objects from digital designs. In the maritime industry, this process is being used to fulfill on-demand orders for spare parts and equipment directly onboard ships. This reduces the need for long-distance transportation of spare parts, accelerates repairs and maintenance, and avoids costly vessel immobilization or operations interruption. In addition, this technology has the potential to enable the creation of complex parts that would be difficult or impossible to produce using traditional manufacturing methods.
Blockchain technology has been increasingly utilized in the maritime industry to enhance transparency, visibility, security, and efficiency across different domains such as supply chain management, vessel registration, and cargo tracking. The core concept of blockchain involves a decentralized digital ledger that provides a secure and transparent way of recording transactions.
For example, with its distributed architecture, blockchain can create an immutable record of a ship’s movements, which can help to prevent fraud and enhance safety. Furthermore, the use of smart contracts instead of paperwork on a blockchain platform can help automate various processes, reducing delays and saving costs.
What are the benefits and challenges of technology for the maritime industry?
By harnessing the power of the latest digital technologies, companies in the maritime industry can increase the value chain and meet the requirements of tech-savvy business users: cheaper and faster shipping, increased flexibility, real-time visibility on operations, and better customer experience.
- Increase efficiency, leading to more streamlined operations;
- Optimize routes to reduce delays, reduce fuel consumption, and lower greenhouse gas emissions;
- Cut operational costs;
- Minimize risks by leveraging predictive information;
- Connect businesses to customers to enhance communication, thus improving customer satisfaction;
- Automate data collection and analysis in a centralized system, enabling better decision-making and more efficient use of resources;
- Eliminate manual paperwork, saving time and reducing human errors.
Yet, unlocking the full potential of the new tools may be challenging for some companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as digital transformation requires specific and costly resources.
Furthermore, it is essential that regulations keep pace with these changes, ensuring that the policies in force do not impede innovation while still maintaining safety and security standards. Being the main regulator for the shipping industry, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is committing to develop a regulatory framework that effectively addresses the unprecedented challenges associated with the development of maritime technologies. This requires close collaboration between all industry players: international and national policymakers, private and public professionals, and technology developers.
With the increased use of connectivity, one critical aspect is to ensure that all digital systems are secure and protected against cyber risk. As a matter of fact, cyber-attacks can result in major financial and operational losses. This is particularly true with respect to technologies such as autonomous vessels.
Furthermore, the industry still suffers a lack of technical expertise when it comes to implementing these emerging technologies, as well as understanding and assessing the safety and security implications. Governments, port authorities, shipping companies, and other transport leaders have to promote marine science technology knowledge sharing at a global level.
Emerging technologies will continue helping the maritime sector to pursue its path towards a more sustainable, profitable and more resilient future. Moving forward, these innovations are expected to play an even greater role, with additional benefits to the market players. Embracing these technological trends to support a digital-first strategy is therefore key for the industry stakeholders to remain competitive and achieve their business goals.
However, technology alone cannot bring the major changes required. This is a shared responsibility, and all maritime industry stakeholders have to foster an environment that supports innovation. Only by working together can the sector meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.
Frequently Asked Questions About Technological Innovation for 2023
- Robotics and automation
- Big data and analytics
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Artificial and augmented intelligence
- Cloud and SaaS
- Autonomous ships
- Green shipping
- Marine renewable energies
- Blockchain technology
Digital technologies have numerous benefits for the maritime industry, including increased efficiency, reduced costs, improved safety, and better sustainability.
For example, robotics and automation can speed up operations, reduce errors, and minimize risk, while big data and analytics can help optimize sailing routes and forecast demand. IoT can be used for predictive maintenance, and cloud-based systems can increase flexibility and communication.
Autonomous ships and green shipping solutions can also reduce fuel consumption and emissions, leading to a more sustainable industry.
Artificial intelligence is being used in the maritime industry in various ways, including for calculating the estimated time of arrival (ETA), monitoring air and water quality, and assessing underwater noise. AI is also essential for creating smart ports, combining technologies such as 5G, IoT, blockchain, and big data to increase efficiency, transparency, and sustainability.
The maritime industry can reduce its environmental impact by implementing green shipping solutions such as alternative fuels (LNG, biofuels, hydrogen, and ammonia) and energy-efficient technologies in machinery and onboard vessels. Additionally, regulatory changes such as the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) measurement can incentivize companies to reduce their carbon intensity.
The industry is also exploring other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion and carbon capture technology to further reduce its environmental impact.
The implementation of new technologies in the maritime industry can face several challenges, including cost, compatibility with existing systems, data security, and employee training.
For example, autonomous ships require significant investment in technology and infrastructure, and their implementation may require regulatory changes. Additionally, cybersecurity threats can be a concern for digital systems, and employees may require training to adapt to new technologies.