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Going green and digital - SMN Rotterdam 2023 Takeaways

This year’s Smart Maritime Network Conference, Rotterdam brought ship operators, shipbuilders, satellite operators, service providers and operational hardware manufacturers together to discuss how to solve industry challenges through technology innovation and application. The biggest takeaway from the event was that ‘green is the goal, and digitalization is the route’. In fact, it’s understood that total emissions from global maritime operations can be reduced by 15% today, if current digital solutions are leveraged fully..

The Port of Rotterdam’s presentation covered the need for a ‘Twin Transition’, where going green and digital is essential to reduce environmental impact and contribute to enabling a carbon-neutral EU by 2050. As an example of the port’s efforts, it is working closely with Singapore to establish a green & digital shipping corridor..

There are several initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint already with the latest being the Energy Efficiency eXisting ship Index (EEXI) and Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) regulations; both of which can be managed better with a digital approach, when satellite connectivity is used to transfer vessel data. Such data can also be used within vessel Digital Twins, a topic that was discussed during the conference in relation to their potential to help optimise maritime operations and business.

Standardizing data Digital twins can use thousands of data points to match a vessel’s characteristics to a specific charter route, allowing for instance, charterers to choose the best suited and most efficient vessels for their cargo. However, to truly unlock the potential of digital twins and digital operations in general, the industry must work towards better data standardization.

A shipping company representative mentioned that his firm has to produce 13 different noon reports for charterers, all of which are manual tasks to be carried out by the Captain or First Mate, whose time could be much better spent. These problems will soon be a thing of the past though, as a Standardized Vessel Dataset (SVD) for Noon Reports was launched by the Smart Maritime Council prior to the conference, following the completion of a proof-of-concept project involving several vessel operators.

Connectivity drivers As members of the Smart Maritime Network council and sponsors of the conference, Cobham Satcom held the round table session “Network diversity is the future – but what is it really?”, which was well attended by a mix of former Captains and Seafarers, repair yards, satellite owners, network operators and service providers. The session included lively discussions on key topics including Connectivity Drivers as one of the main talking points giving us the chance to better understand why high-performance, dependable satcom is so important to the maritime industry. Aside from the already established uses like crew welfare (WhatsApp anyone?) and general operational efficiency benefits, we heard about some more specific workstreams including repair and maintenance.

Providing relevant data from the vessel before it comes in for repair saves time and money as parts can be pre-ordered and engineers can plan their work. Likewise, for on board repairs. Satcom unlocks smarter support processes, where manufacturers can e.g., guide technicians to fix problems even if they are not an expert.

Network diversity Network diversity was perhaps one of the hottest topics during the roundtable. With the Digital Twin need to go green and digital, and with drivers for connectivity demanding high speed and reliability, it falls to the satcom sector to provide the infrastructure needed. And while some digital applications can operate with low data transfer requirements, powerful new cloud-based systems for vessel and fleet management always need a stable connection.

It is only possible to achieve such high uptime at sea by combining different networks into a single service, which can operate automatically and provide the best connectivity based on specific parameters, which could be anything from location and environmental conditions to application-based selection, where different services are used according to the demands of the software connected.

One attendee likened it to a cell phone choosing the best network available based on your current location, which is something that we’ve all seen happen when landing at an airport. This is where the human factor came into the conversation. With more digital technologies being used on-board, the user experience must be optimal. Users don’t care (and neither should they), how the connectivity is served, if they get to operate the applications they need.

Whether its YouTube, the SMN’s new Standardised Vessel Dataset (SVD) for Noon Reports, emissions reporting platforms or route planning systems, network diversity is vital. But it must happen in the background and be seamless to really deliver what the end-users need from maritime connectivity.

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