Effective Use of Big Data & Remote Monitoring

by Drew Brandy, Senior Vice President, Maritime Market Strategy at Inmarsat
Monday January 9, 2017

The shipping industry is awash with excitement about the potential of Big Data, but views differ as to whether a fully-fledged Big Data strategy best serves the true requirements of vessel operators. Some have advocated a 'small data' approach – seeing greater benefit in improved extraction of the value hidden in existing data sets, pointing out that most of the data-centric optimisation solutions offered to market so far are based on beefed-up versions of noon reports.

One reason is that the communications link between ship and shore imposes constraints on data exploitation. This, consequently, restricts the extent to which shipping companies and OEMs alike can capitalise on the full benefits of remote equipment monitoring.  Fortunately, these communications constraints are diminishing. Earlier this year, Inmarsat launched its Fleet Xpress high-speed broadband service.

Fleet Xpress raises the stakes not only in terms of bandwidth – the quantity of data it can send over its satellites – but in terms of availability and resilience. Powered by Inmarsat's latest generation I-5 satellites, it operates over the high-frequency Ka-band to deliver data more quickly than is possible with Ku-band VSAT services. To ensure connection in extreme weather conditions or when a vessel is navigating in higher latitudes close to the poles, it incorporates an automated unlimited fall-back option to the satellite operator's resilient L-band service.

Now vessel operators and equipment suppliers have a bigger communication 'pipe' available for shifting data ashore, they will be able to take advantage of richer data sets, whether for monitoring engines and related equipment, planned maintenance and parts procurement, or optimising navigation at sea and port turnarounds. These are all but crucial for more advanced predictive maintenance services.

To date, better data sets have been the preserve of larger vessel operators – such as Maersk Line – or niche market segments such as the cruise sector. The Danish containership operator says it downloads two gigabytes of data every day from its Triple-E ships, each of which is hardwired with about 2,800 sensors and 450km of cables. The engine room alone has 200 sensors measuring equipment temperatures, pressures, and operations. For the whole Maersk fleet of about 400 owned and chartered ships, the operator states it hauls back some 30 terabytes a month, much of which ends up at its digital situation room. Even five years ago, such data volumes would have been unimaginable.

Elsewhere cruise ship operator Carnival Corporation has opened a fleet operations centre in Hamburg, Germany, from where it supports 25 passenger ships across several of its brands. Reflecting their complexity, these ships typically have more than 10,000 sensors on board. Besides optimising for fuel consumption, there is scope for fine-tuning habitability services, such as HVAC, freshwater generation, and wastewater management, which on a large passenger ship can translate into significant energy and cost savings.

A strong part of the appeal of Inmarsat's Fleet Xpress service is that it can democratise access to these efficiency improvements, bringing them to smaller vessel operators who do not necessarily have the resources for setting up bespoke mission control centres. Two major innovations make this possible. From the commercial point of view, Inmarsat has introduced flexibility into the billing process, by allowing costs incurred in transmitting data to be split between the vessel owner and a third-party, such as an OEM or data analytics service provider. This addresses that part of resistance to adopting new solutions traceable to so-called 'bill-shock' - a legacy of older metered satcoms services, whereby the vessel owner was charged per megabyte transmitted. 

Secondly, the Fleet Xpress service is augmented by the Inmarsat Gateway, which amongst other things offers certified third-party developers to host a new breed of data-centric applications intended to boost vessel efficiency.

Inmarsat has also addressed cyber-security, a growing concern as data becomes increasingly embedded in vessel operations. It is partnering Singtel, to jointly develop its Trustwave unified threat management service to provide a suite of cyber security defences, such as an advance firewall, anti-virus, intrusion prevention and web-filtering, which is backed by global round-the-clock support. By augmenting customers' onshore cyber security measures, the new package will reduce the risk of data from ships ending up in the wrong hands.

In Fleet Xpress, Inmarsat has put in place the foundations - continuous connectivity, guaranteed performance, controlled costs, third-party hosting – that will allow sophisticated data analytics solutions and the efficiency gains they promise to reach an increasing share of the world fleet.