Posted on April 03, 2018 by Ashleigh Cowie

COO of ARX Maritime addresses this topic, and why big companies play a part in the long-term advances in shipping, but it’s the small companies that are essential to the immediate development of technology in the maritime sector.

By Steve Regis, COO, ARX Maritime

Autonomisation, Internet of Things (IoT), Digitalisation & Cyber Security.  Some of the biggest buzzwords for the maritime world at the moment. And they’re not far from our personal lives either. Shopping is touchless with the assistance of Amazon’s Alexa, thermostats need no direction as they control your household temperature without you being at home, and cars are now completely independent, with trials of driverless cars on British and American roads.

You need look no further than Silicon Valley to see some of the companies heading these innovative changes, but trying to find the biggest innovators in the shipping sector and you may have to look a little harder.

Rolls Royce broke away from the traditionally archaic shipping mentally with their concept for an autonomous liner. Then came the announcement that they were selling their commercial marine division, so where does this leave autonomous shipping? Who is left to take the pioneering baton for the rest of the maritime market? Research and Development departments are now becoming regular parts of large shipping company, but with a firm focus on changes that benefit the company, there’s little inclination or money left to develop technology that benefits the whole industry.

Addressing industry leaders at the Connecticut Maritime Association Shipping Conference this year, the Chairman and CEO of ABS, Christopher Wiernicki, made global trends and progression in business a focus of his speech. He described how “normal means nothing is normal. Normal means change”. Before concluding that “Leadership must understand the role of technology and the importance of assessing technology risk in the commercial risk decision making process”.  This sense that there needs to be a change in leadership mentality in order to allow progression is common across many industries, but is apparent in shipping more than most. Undoubtedly some leaders recognise the benefits of having a growth mind-set to implement the change needed for new technologies, but is enough being done to make this mind-set a reality?

In addition to the change in mind-set it is worth mentioning the undeniable challenges that a company must face if they want to branch in to new technologies. For instance, when talking about progression towards autonomous shipping, Dr Christian Matthews from Liverpool John Moores University’s Department of Maritime and Mechanical Engineering, argues that autonomous systems would take away the frequency of accidents on board, but counteracts this with the notion that if an accident did occur the outcome out an accident could be more unpredictable. For instance, if a fire broke out on board, there would be no risk to the crew but there would also be no crew members to act accordingly, raise the alarm, and put out the fire.

With resource playing such a huge factor in a company’s ability to innovate, the responsibility to make ground-breaking developments often falls to the largest companies, such as Rolls Royce and YARA Birkeland, who are best placed to provide the time, money and manpower to push maritime forward. But with an ever more unpredictable economic climate can the industry afford to trust that these companies will follow through to completion? What happens if they decide that the advancement no longer fits their core business model? And with all resource put in to the long-term advancements, to be the first to make the big step for maritime, who is left to monitor the smaller scale developments that are needed to keep the maritime world in line with the technological developments that are taking over the rest of our lives?

This is where small and medium enterprises are a gift to the sector. If the shipping companies were to put more trust in the smaller companies, and even award the smaller projects to them, then this allows the smaller changes to be made, keeping the sector up to date with technological advances, while the bigger companies focus on the bigger picture.

The most exciting part of SMEs is the experience individuals have within these organisations. Usually Maritime start-ups and SME organisations have been created from industry experts that have experienced the industry first hand, they have seen a problem and now they are passionate about solving it. ARX Maritime for example have former security specialists, technology developers and naval architects all focused on making a difference to the industry.

If, as an SME, you navigate through the chaos of the industry, and reach the correct company and the relevant decision maker, more often than not, that individual shows a great deal of receptiveness for innovations. But then it’s the next barrier- cost. A positive conversation leads quickly to the too frequent question of “who is going to pay for it? Is it the vessel owner, the charterer or the manager?”. As an SME it’s challenging to pin this down. Even if you can demonstrate a real cost save if there is nobody willing to take responsibility for the cost, then there is no progression in the technology.

So, for what it’s worth, I think that if industry leaders want to be more than just an attendee at conferences about future mega-trends, they need to do more than mention the buzz words at their next strategy meetings, they need to be a force for action.  They need to openly engage, enable and champion innovate SME’s who share their vision of a more connected, advanced and adaptive maritime sector. The SME market is the most aggressive, adaptive and innovative. I call upon shipping majors to embrace the SME market and if they genuinely want to adapt and see change, let SMEs help them get there.

Posted in Openbridge , Operations

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