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Keeping a weather eye on vessel performance optimisation

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Combining a ‘digital twin’ with high resolution tide and current data has enabled We4Sea to generate the next generation of vessel performance data.

Despite the lively industry conversation around digitalisation and new technology, many shipowners still rely on very analogue practices to accumulate vessel performance information: the noon report.

Something of a riposte to the futurists’ vision of hyper-connected shipping generating petabytes of data every day, the noon report is filed once every 24 hours, with the majority of data entered manually.

The challenge in moving shipowners on from manual reporting to something more digital and continuous is a simple split incentive: the owner must make the investment but the charterer, who often pays for the fuel, will benefit.

Some would argue this makes good business sense: happy customers are more likely to stay, but owners have historically struggled to recoup the outlay of installing sensors. It also ignores the looming impact of the biggest regulatory change to the industry since the single-hull tanker ban: the 2020 sulphur cap.

The solution, not surprisingly, lies in better data, but specifically in the way it is collected, modelled and acted on. And it reflects the changes taking place not just in technology but in mindset as owners and operators face rising costs of operations and compliance.

Metocean data provider Tidetech has long argued that accurate, local tide and current information can make a difference to understanding vessel performance and fuel consumption. Monitoring and analysis provider We4Sea agrees and is using Tidetech data to disrupt the traditional model of vessel performance reporting.

We4Sea has developed a platform which measures performance without collecting data from onboard the ship, which as founder Dan Veen says, means “no capex, no ship visits, no installation, no off-hire”.

Veen says his analysis concluded that very few ships have active monitoring in place at all. ”The majority still rely on a noon report, once every 24 hours from the master with distance sailed, fuel consumed and so on. The best we can say is that at least it’s cheap. But it’s not useable for analysis and a full understanding of fuel efficiency.”

Instead of trying to overcome resistance to investment in hardware, We4Sea took a different approach, drawing together weather and ocean data with a ‘digital twin’ of the ship’s design and equipment, AIS is used to derive the exact position of the ship and apply actual tide and current data supplied by Tidetech together with other weather conditions to calculate actual fuel consumption.

Not only does this technology bypass the need to source data from ship, it also makes it possible to start monitoring quickly. Comparing the output with noon reports, any installed sensors or the Voyage Data Recorder enables benchmarking. Accurate and reliable tide, current and weather data is invaluable in this process because it enables We4Sea to isolate weather-related fuel consumption and consumption caused by the movement of the ship.

“The first thing we learned is that the vast majority of ships do not sail as they were designed. Those designed for 16 knots may in reality run at 14 knots – that means that the installed power is too large and engine is running in an inefficient way.

That knocks on to the propeller because if it has controllable pitch, the blades will be set for 16 knots. We can provide advice on how to adapt or retrofit the vessel to be most efficient at a real operational profile.”

The We4Sea model was developed with one eye on the 2020 sulfur cap, when the majority of the industry will switch from relatively cheap high sulfur fuel to low sulfur fuel oil or gasoil at twice the price. Beyond that lie IMO and EU CO2 reduction measures which are expected to increase costs still further.

“At that point [2020], fuel efficiency suddenly becomes a business case. If your competitor chooses to sail on heavy fuel oil with scrubbers for example, or if he switches to a low sulfur fuel, his margins will be very different,” says Veen. “The second driver is that shippers are increasingly demanding fuel efficiency figures and CO2 emissions because they have to report their complete carbon footprint. That means at least daily, ideally real-time monitoring.”

A little weather data goes a long way to providing opportunities for operational efficiency. The majority of this data is derived by having someone look out of the windows and estimating the height of the wave swell, wind direction and speed. We4Sea quickly realised it would need a supplier of very high quality tide and current data but found the options for global and local coverage were limited. “Tidetech’s data stood out in terms of its accuracy,” says Veen.

The increasing use of APIs means that vendors can gather data on a 24/7 basis and ingest it into third party systems to present meaningful results to owners. Tidetech’s data arrives in the We4Sea system via a fully automated connection and is combined with other inputs to provide a fleet-wide picture to the end user. The model also works in reverse, owners are able to ask We4Sea for the latest weather reports in their vessels’ locations, data they can use to set the best trim condition.

“We basically fill in the gaps left by the noon report, so instead of estimated tides and currents at one data point every 24 hours, we can provide this in real-time,” Veen concludes. “Until now installation of sensors for vessel monitoring has been a showstopper, as the ship had to in dry dock or be in port and it could take months before they were installed and the first data flowed. Now it’s possible to start within a day.”•

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