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e-Navigation to chart way forward for shipping

As the industry eyes ways to enable smart shipping and accelerate the transition to increased automation and eventual autonomy, Børge Hetland, CCO of e-Navigation specialist NAVTOR, argues that the foundation for the future is firmly in place. What’s more, his company, with the help of select partnerships, is already building on it… and fast.

“Sometimes I hear, or read, discussions about the future of the industry and people talk about how this or that potential innovation, if it were possible, could enable a new age of benefits – greater efficiency, reduced costs, diminished environmental impact, etc. etc. And I sit there thinking, ‘wait a minute, we’ve already got that innovation, we can do that now!’”

Børge Hetland is laughing, but he’s deadly serious.

The CCO of NAVTOR, which is headquartered in Norway and serves a global fleet of approaching 6,000 vessels with advanced ENC-based services, is trying to make the point that e-Navigation isn’t just a way of taking individual vessels on optimal routes, but rather thecentral instrument for guiding the entire industry forward into the future.

“It’s the platform for everything,” he says, “the bridge uniting ship and shore.”

Taking control

Data is the key. e-Navigation relies on sharing data between sea and land – pushing the very latest digital charts and publications from locations on shore to those on the bridge, ensuring safe, compliant and predictable vessel operations. But to do that it needs a pathway, and a gateway, creating a seamless and secure method of transferal. So does ‘smart shipping’.

“Smart shipping, and by that I mean shipping with reduced costs, increased efficiency and more sustainable operations, is digital,” Hetland comments. “To meet those objectives we need data, and from that data we can empower better decision making, improved processes and, in short, greater control. But to achieve this we have to share the data seamlessly from ship to shore and back again, creating one joined up operational entity where everyone has the information and oversight required for optimal performance.

“So you need the right infrastructure in place,” he says, adding, “and guess what, e-Navigation has it.”

Gateway to progress

In NAVTOR’s case the firm has created that infrastructure with a device called the NavBox. This operates as a DNV GL certified cyber-secure gateway, feeding encrypted information to and from vessels via satellite. It enables the firm to automate the distribution and update of digital charts, publications and other navigational data for its customers. But this, according to Hetland, is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Where do we start?” he remarks. “The NavBox is a gateway which, working with our digital chart table NavStation, allows all sorts of operationally relevant data to be shared with shore, while those on the bridge can access all the very latest information they need to plan and execute optimal, compliant and safe voyages.”

This, he says, ranges from real-time weather information, to security alerts, regulatory information (encompassing everything from international rules to individual port requirements) and vessel traffic, all accessed as ‘layers’ over digital charts so bridge officers have a complete navigational tool at their fingertips. Processes can be automated and administration burdens slashed (with a Passage Planning module reducing admin time from an average of over three hours to under 30 minutes per vessel, per voyage), translating to a huge economy across fleets.

In terms of those on the shore, this data flow becomes an invaluable fleet management tool, allowing teams to obtain a real time overview of vessel movement, performance and compliance (NAVTOR has a fleet management ‘app’ called NavTracker) – before comparing ships to analyse, learn and introduce fleet wide improvements.

Hand in hand benefits

In addition, increased automation reduces human error and enhances safety, while digitally optimized routes - taking into account factors such as real-time weather conditions and tidal patterns - can deliver significant vessel fuel savings.

“This is good for the environment and, when you consider that fuel accounts for a huge slice of vessel OPEX, very, very good for business,” Hetland argues. “And that’s the essence of smart shipping – using technology to deliver tangible benefits, for business and for society, with greater efficiency, reduced costs and smaller eco footprints. Those things really do go hand in hand.”

NAVTOR sees e-Navigation as the ‘great enabler’ for reduced vessel crews and the eventual move towards autonomy, with the firm having played a key role in the EU’s ENABLE project, where their role involved testing a shore-based bridge concept.

“Access to data allows those on shore to have eyes on the ship, controlling operations and optimising performance,” says the NAVTOR CCO. “When you combine individual vessel data with wider data – from ports, relevant authorities and other vessels – you can ‘join the dots’ to give a full overview of ship movements, allowing for safe traffic, predictable operations and optimal efficiency (with, for example, ‘just in time’ port arrivals).

“This may sound like science fiction, but it’s possible now.”

Stronger together

Although NAVTOR has created a platform upon which smart shipping can be built, it is quick to acknowledge it needs partners to fully develop it. The firm has recently signed agreements with Japan’s Weathernews Inc (WNI), which, amongst other things, sees them working together on AI vessel routing solutions, and Total Marine Solutions of the US, giving NavStation users a uniquely comprehensive overview of geo-referenced environmental rules and regulations.

Its latest partnership, with fellow Norwegian firm ScanReach, marks a potentially huge step forward on the smart shipping pathway.

“We have developed the infrastructure connecting ship and shore, whereas they have developed an onboard infrastructure, connecting virtually any piece of equipment, system, or individual via sensor technology,” Hetland explains, describing ScanReach’s low cost ‘plug and play’ wireless IoT platform that can be installed on any ship, without the need for cabling, and communicate through the most complex steel environments.

“What we now intend to do is to join those two infrastructures, creating a seamless information channel running from onboard sensors to land-based facilities, and back, enabling optimal decision-making, 24/7.”

Smart steps forward

“Imagine,” he continues, “land based teams will be able to see real-time data from, for example, engine room sensors and adjust performance accordingly to meet objectives. Cargoes can be monitored, automated reports produced for regulatory and environmental control, energy consumption can be optimized, and (with wearable sensor technology) exact crew locations can be fed to response and rescue teams in emergency situations. And that’s just a few examples.

“This will provide something akin to 360-degree real-time awareness – on vessels and on shore – like never before. It’s a true game changer for the shipping industry.”

Aware of the danger of sounding overly evangelical, Hetland sits back, smiles and spreads his hands as he concludes: “Look, e-Navigation is about making connections: about sharing data, about gathering intelligence and about making better decisions, with less workloads, less costs, less risks and less impact on the environment. That is the very essence of smart shipping, and that is the route this industry needs to follow.

“We have the technology to start that journey now, and with the pressure this industry faces, both commercially and environmentally, we can’t afford to wait. Let’s go!”


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