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Maritime and data: Seven predictions for the year ahead

As the worst stages of the COVID-19 pandemic receded in 2022, maritime businesses may have expected a return to normality. That smooth ride failed to emerge. The Russian war in Ukraine and unravelling global economies conspired to create another tumultuous year for supply chains and shipping markets.

Will 2023 be any better? In some ways perhaps. Wärtsilä experts predict progress on tackling fundamental industry issues, supported by an increasing appreciation of the role of data in creating a more stable and sustainable shipping market. But markets are likely to remain turbulent.

1. Economic headwinds

While the supply chain will continue to normalise, other market factors – including low freight rates, depressed consumer demand and potential global recession – will mean that challenges remain for ship owners and operators.

Under these conditions, business instincts may be to focus on cost control. For a market in the middle of multiple transitions, not least the way it uses both energy and data, that could be a costly mistake.

Instead, a more proactive mode of business management will be needed, with data at its heart, to comply with incoming regulations and drive safer, more efficient operations. Only by embracing new solutions will the industry be able to navigate persistent volatility while preparing for the dramatic changes it faces.

2. Cross-sector collaboration

The twin challenges of supply chain resilience and decarbonisation will encourage logistics stakeholders to engage more closely than ever before with their maritime partners. On the decarbonisation side, the need for cooperate across industries was clearly highlighted at the recent COP27 climate talks; shipping needs the energy sector to decarbonise, while other industries will need shipping to carry the green fuels they will need to reduce emissions.

Fuelled by mutual overarching objectives, industries will need transparency to ensure each plays their role. In shipping, the introduction of IMO’s Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) and Energy Efficiency for Existing Ships Index (EEXI) will provide early building blocks for the visibility other stakeholders will need to see the impact of maritime carbon-cutting measures.

Closer collaboration will require frank discussions about data interoperability and shared standards. Wärtsilä predicts that this need will drive the formation of a major cross-sector initiative focused on making data truly shareable as all stakeholders strive for a resilient, carbon-neutral supply chain.

3. Ports as lynchpins

As the connection between supply chain infrastructure on land and at sea, ports will have a pivotal role in enabling resilience and emissions reduction. Recent crises have brought ports into the public spotlight, showcasing their importance to global trade. In 2023 they will use this new appreciation to seek wider investment for resilience measures, including alternative fuel infrastructure and digitalised processes to simplify and accelerate cargo throughput.

Digitising ports will help share real-time data across the supply chain and ensure vessels can move through ports more efficiently. More ports will invest in tracking solutions to aid all stakeholders in building a robust, just-in-time supply network. At the same time, digital safety remains a prime concern and cybersecurity will feature more heavily on ports’ boardroom agendas next year.

4. Digital uptake advances

The greater scrutiny of emissions afforded by new climate regulations will contribute to the increasing use of advanced monitoring and optimisation solutions among ship operators. The CII and EEXI will create short-term demand for efficiency improvements. With the availability of zero-carbon fuels still developing, digital systems provide the easiest, most effective way for organisations to start curbing emissions in line with stepped CII requirements.

The CountEmissions EU framework and other regulatory initiatives to improve reporting transparency around emissions will start to have an impact in 2023, leading greater numbers of progressive owners to come out publicly with sustainability goals. Digital solutions to log the necessary data will become standard, and ship operators will be looking for ways to harness that data in other aspects of vessel performance.

5. New challenges need new talent

As more companies commit to using voyage optimisation and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, the skills gap in maritime will become evident. There remains a lack of the digital skillsets and knowledge base to enact real-world change in maritime going forward; in 2023, companies will begin to focus on filling those gaps.

Wärtsilä foresees a shifting of roles in the industry, bringing in talent from adjacent sectors to increase the pace of change and deliver against companies’ ambitious net zero strategies. An influx of technology-aware decision makers and project managers will further drive maritime’s digital maturity as existing solutions are adopted to deliver immediate results on decarbonisation.

6. Digital twins grow up

Facing economic pressures and a need to accelerate innovation, shipping will rely more on digital twinning to help make multiple strands of technology research more viable. A holistic representation of simulated and historic data gathered from ships, components and operating conditions will become the first step for much of the industry’s innovation process.

Digital twins enable rapid iteration of designs as part of the initial design and prototyping stages. These will be followed by physical trials on test vessels and in experience centres to speed up innovation, enabling organisations to fail fast and maximise time and cost efficiencies to bring new technologies to market quicker.

7. Virtual becomes reality

The energy and digital transitions will generate huge demand for training; according to a recent report by DNV commissioned by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force, the most ambitious projections for alternative fuel uptake could mean additional training for up to 800,000 seafarers by the mid-2030s. To meet that demand, virtual- and mixed-reality training capability will need to advance rapidly, starting from 2023.

If organisations are going to benefit from data-driven insights or alternative fuels, crews must be highly competent, operate with the highest levels of safety and have access to continuous training programmes. Physical training can be expensive, time consuming and has associated risks. Blending this with virtual training will improve the quality, pace and cost of upskilling or reskilling crews.
Source: Wärtsilä

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