Trials planned for full scale onboard wireless connectivity

Paul Gunton

Paul Gunton · 09 July 2019

ShipInsight


Six months of extensive trials are planned for what is said to be a unique technology that makes it possible to set up a wireless internet-of-things (IoT) network on a ship, even within its steel hull. One of the people behind the technology told ShipInsight that it is a ‘game-changer’ for the industry, creating a wide range of operational and commercial benefits.

Jacob Grieg Eide, chief business development officer at the Norwegian company ScanReach, said last week (1 July) that the system can be easily retrofitted to existing tonnage or incorporated into newbuildings. It would remove the need for expensive cabling to provide control and monitoring networks by replacing them with wireless links, creating opportunities to obtain and share data in ways that have previously been difficult or impossible.

North sea giant
North Sea Giant has been a test-bed for ScanReach since April 2018

The technology has already been tested in full scale since April 2018 onboard the subsea construction vessel North Sea Giant, operated by North Sea Shipping (pictured above).

One of the trials’ goals is to understand how broad its applications – or ‘use-cases’ as Mr Eide put it – can be. “That’s why we want to talk to the world shipping industry,” he said. Specifically, he wants to find out what the most important use-cases will be. He has plenty of his own ideas, among them are monitoring fuel consumption, recording ballast valve movements to confirm compliance for ballast treatment regulations and tracking crew to improve onboard safety.

The savings that could be made by using better fuel consumption data would probably be enough to cover the cost of using the service, he said, and fuel measurement sensors were added to the North Sea Giant trial in late June.

ShipInsight had previously interviewed Mr Eide during the Nor-Shipping exhibition in early June when he outlined the science behind the technology and said that it had taken “four to five years”, including two years of testing with the Norwegian Navy, to develop a system that can communicate through steel. These next trials will involve between 30 and 50 installations in different market segments “to be sure that everything works as it should” and to get more feedback on the most valuable use-cases and user interface, he said.

“We have a lot of incoming orders,” he said, but the coming months will be used to expand the company’s resources to handle those and what he expects will be growing demand. “We are a small organisation,” he explained, but it has recruited additional staff and will be moving to new offices shortly, in part to give it a larger IoT (internet of things) laboratory. In August, “we are definitely moving into a different gear,” he said.

Its technology uses sensors that have their own long-life battery power supplies and are linked together via a mesh to pass data to an onboard computer. Its new IoT lab will be used to offer what it calls a ScanReach-Ready programme to test sensors for their suitability to be connected to the mesh. “We have a lot of very interesting sensors lined up” for testing, Mr Eide said. And he had a message for sensor makers: “this is a fantastic opportunity for them.”One of the company’s new staff has been taken on to develop that service.

He identified vibration sensors as one area where there is scope for large cost savings over existing technologies. Not only will there be no cabling costs with IoT-enabled units, but a new generation of vibration sensors is now available that are small and cost “just a couple of dollars,” he said.

They use edge computing concepts, which reduces the amount of data that is needed and is not yet widely used in marine applications, he said. But it is at the heart of ScanReach’s technology so “now you can smarten up your vessel in a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost,” he claimed.

Monitoring fuel consumption can also be done simply, he suggested, using clamp-on sensors that measure fuel flow either side of each engine without needing to cut the pipes or take the ship out of service to fit conventional flow meters. These could transmit their data wirelessly to an onboard computer and from there to the shore where detailed analysis of a ship’s consumption could be carried out.

This might show, for example, that more generators are being run than is necessary, or it could identify one crew’s best practice by comparing consumption across voyages. “It’s a huge grey area because there is no low-cost real-time wireless technology available to understand fuel consumption,” Mr Eide said. His example of using the network to monitor ballast management compliance would use position sensors fitted to the ballast valves so that a record could be made of their operation during a voyage that could be shown to port state control inspectors.

But it is safety that tops his list of potential applications for the technology. For example, seafarers venturing into enclosed spaces or other hidden parts of a ship could wear tracking devices that could be used to locate them quickly in the event of an accident. The tracking data could also be used in debriefing sessions after training exercises to review crew movements.

In readiness for its technology becoming commercial, ScanReach has signed an agreement with Navtor that would give it access to the computers and ship-to-shore links that the company uses as a gateway for its e-charts and voyage data services. Navtor has agreements covering 5,500 vessels and is adding about 1,000 per year, Mr Eide said, and ScanReach plans to add real-time weather and fuel information, among other data, to that portfolio. Like Navtor’s, ScanReach’s business model is subscription-based.

Weather information is particularly useful, he suggested. With a wireless network, a weather station could be fitted to the top of the wheelhouse and its information passed to the onboard computer without having to drill through the deckhead. That information could be made available to other ships in the area in a similar way to how Tesla cars share information about local road conditions, he said. Data could also be aggregated from several ships, he suggested. “If we combine weather data, chart data, voyage data and fuel [consumption], that is an incredibly powerful use-case.”

ScanReach is also in talks with Inmarsat. North Sea Giant’s installation uses Inmarsat’s Fleet Data service, which is marketed as being suitable for IoT-related applications, and Mr Eide said that its own system “integrates perfectly” with that data transfer service. Other companies it is in discussions with include engine maker Wärtsilä, tanker operator Odfjell and an oil major, with a view to including rigs and offshore vessels in its trial programme.

Other sectors it would like to join its trial programme include container ships, reefer vessels, high-end passenger ships, products carriers and chemical tankers. Any ShipInsight reader who would like to take part in the trial can email Mr Eide for more details.

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