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How technology is changing the maritime industry as we know it

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As with many other industries, key players in maritime are increasingly spurred on to accelerate innovation and adopt new technologies in a bid to stay ahead of the curve.

Although the uptake of technologies and innovation has been relatively slow in the maritime industry due to the complex nature of traditional maritime operations, the industry has now evolved and is beginning to overhaul legacy systems to embrace modern approaches to shipping and port operations.

The maritime industry in Singapore, in particular, has already seen rapid changes. Maritime leaders today are taking the lead in embracing innovation in various areas including automation, connectivity, simulation and analytics to not only increase efficiency and productivity, but also solve potential issues.

For example, PSA Singapore, together with Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) and 3D MetalForge Pte Ltd, recently launched the world’s first commercial 3D printing facility, which utilises additive manufacturing technologies and is supported by blockchain technology, to enable the fabrication of spare parts for port equipment.

The Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map was also launched earlier this year by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in partnership with the industry, unions and other government agencies. Aimed at developing Singapore into a next-generation port, the plan also seeks to catalyse innovation, drive productivity improvements, as well as enhance the skills of the maritime workforce.

Leading the maritime evolution

For PSA Singapore, the complex orchestration of activities within the port area is the bread and butter of our operations. Few key technological areas, namely Big Data and other collaborative platforms are crucial in helping the ports of Singapore stay prepared and competent while continuing to provide high-quality service levels to customers.

Through data analytics, Big Data can help with understanding areas that need to be optimised as well as develop key capabilities. For instance, analysed data can be used to predict the arrival of vessels to anticipate the manpower required to support various operations, and the transportation required to deliver container movement.

Engineers can also use the data to predict time-to-failure of system parts. This helps in either scheduling in advance the proper inspections needed to diagnose potential system failures or restoring certain equipment to its optimal state in the shortest time possible.

Digital transformation for our next generation port was mapped out in our Container Port 4.0™ initiative. We are bringing on board emerging technologies for this vision of the intelligent port of the future. IoT devices are connected for sense-making and enable the application of AI and Machine Learning for higher productivity in our operations.

Taking port efficiency to new levels

Smart engineering involving predictive and prescriptive maintenance on automated container handling machines will also be applied to optimise component replacement intervals, just-in-time maintenance and more. With such technology-enabled processes, engineering staff carrying out maintenance and diagnostic tests will become more efficient and we can witness a rise in quality. This will help give a level of consistency and efficiency at ports that humans have been unable to achieve in the past.

While we acknowledge limitations such as the inability to provide an acceptable level of productivity for overly complex and dynamic tasks, we also recognise that technology-enabled engineering allows for fleet-level orchestration, increased efficiencies in deploying resources, energy savings, as well as reducing fatigue and risk exposure for rank-and-file staff.

In addition, PSA Singapore is already actively working on implementing automation into the workflow. Earlier this year, we launched a trial of a new Automated Quay Crane system at the Pasir Panjang Terminal that can boost productivity substantially, as well as introduce benefits of automation to bolster Singapore’s status as a port hub.

Overcoming adoption hurdles

While automation, or any other technological innovations, can benefit the industry by easing strenuous tasks and streamlining workflow, the industry faces adoption challenges when it comes to full-scale implementation. Challenges such as costs, safety, complexity, skills-matching and the lack of standardisation are some of the hurdles to an industry-wide adoption.

To successfully utilise new technologies to transform the industry, it is imperative to have industry-wide collaboration for standardisation, proper human resource implementation, and public-private partnership.

The importance of standardisation cannot be overlooked as using similar technologies and procedure can help with reducing the cost of adoption and increase success of implementation. Spare parts can be easily obtainable, keeping the equipment versatile and maintenance costs low.

Upskilling the workforce

Similarly, professional proficiencies of operators and engineers can be developed easily, as skills are transferable to maintain and upgrade the systems with little variation.

Upskilling the current workforce can also contribute to the success of implementation as well. By having a strategic skills competency roadmap based on the demands of emerging technologies in jobs, human resource teams can identify skill gaps within the organisation and plan for training and possible job redesigns, as well as a restructure if necessary, to facilitate the adoption of technologies within the current workflow.

For example, PSA Singapore utilises remote guidance systems in the form of smart glasses which allow subject matter experts to guide staff remotely during complex troubleshooting scenarios. The use of such technology not only reduces time costs in training and onboarding current or new staff, but increases the efficiency rates of actual port operation performance.

Engaging strategic partners such as the right technology solution and research and development (R&D) providers to find the right hardware for the job is also important.

In addition, the continuous interaction with government agencies, as well as local institutes of higher learning, can help groom the next generation of professionals qualified to operate and continue the development of the implemented technologies.

Gearing up for the next phase of maritime

There is no doubt that technology, when used in the right manner, can strengthen the maritime industry. In gearing up for future challenges, it is imperative that maritime leaders come together to create standardisation in policies, protocols and collaborate on greater education and training initiatives.

Efforts to do so can help reduce operational complexities and alleviate technology adoption pain points, which will enable the community-at-large to reap the full benefits of technology at the workplace.

Alvin Foo is Head of Engineering, PSA Singapore.

PSA Singapore is an exhibitor and sponsor of Sea Asia 2019, to be held in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sandsfrom April 9-11 next year. 2019. Sea Asia, the region’s leading maritime conference and exhibition, will be the anchor event during Singapore Maritime Week.

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