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Digitized Operations Are the Future of the Marine Industry

Ship on the seashore

Over the last decade, there has been a shift in the global marine industry's perception of technology. While the sector has traditionally been viewed as innovative, this view has somewhat diminished over time. It is still considered a relatively old-fashioned industry that is slow in adopting modern technologies compared to other sectors of the economy. However, this view is fast-changing. Today, it is becoming increasingly clear that ships can be operated more efficiently and safely than ever before with the digitalization of maritime processes.  

There is no longer a one-size-fits-all for digitizing within the marine industry, and the level of digitization varies across the industry. Some companies have taken to digitizing their business, while others prefer to stick with the old way of doing things. Most companies fall somewhere in between.  

The Marine Industry Needs New Approaches  

Navigating the unique challenges of marine engineering can be a daunting task. From requiring multi-discipline design engineers, physical space constraints, extreme weather conditions, deep water, and remote locations to individual components, your project and team can't afford any downtime or productivity loss while completing projects on schedule and within budget. Having to re-enter data in more than one system can compromise information reliability and significantly increase teams' total time entering and searching for information. So, maintaining an efficient project execution and later operation requires immediate access to accurate and reliable data — from design to production, as well during operation. 

Top Business Risks with Traditional Approaches 

  • Lack of integration across different disciplines/departments  

The traditional marine industry is one of the most complex industries to manage and operate. It involves multiple disciplines from business management production engineering to design, planning, and production/assembly. The ship life cycle spiral is incredibly complex in the engineering and production stage, where the multiple disciplines follow different time phases. 

What makes it even harder is that there's no integration between different disciplines and departments, making it difficult for them to share information and work together effectively and eventually produce reliable data for others who are dependent on it during the project.  

  • No visualization of overall processes  

Since the different disciplines are running on different time paths through the design cycle, it is challenging to maintain a complete view of the overall process. However, there is no automated way to visualize this entire process and the status of each process step at any time. That also makes it hard to manage the entire process, track data, and make changes to adapt to a changing environment. During these stages, pointing out the differences between the different disciplines provides insightful information to the other teams to focus on this "unaligned" data.  

  • Inaccessible and unreliable information   

The biggest challenge with the old approach is access to reliable information and turnaround times. There is a need to provide a holistic view of the status of a project or order, where the information often comes from multiple solutions. In contrast, solutions are often disconnected and do not provide the correct holistic view of the project or order. 

  • Errors in resources planning   

The marine industry is an environment where resources are limited for engineers, available working space, and raw materials. In addition, there are also many stakeholders involved in the project, which makes it difficult to plan activities accordingly. As a result, there are often delays in organizations such as shipyards and other marine environments. This is due to inaccurate resources planning, leading to a lack of required components and thus causing further delays.  

  •  Limited recycling potential of existing data (Sisterships)  

Shipbuilding has been concerned with cost and efficiency for a long time due to its manual processes. But the challenge occurs when reusing information from previous projects, which are relevant to future project studies. Shipyards must deal with massive amounts of data, and they also face high workloads when processing information from one project to another. It results in dispersed and unreliable data sources and long turnaround times.  

  • Inefficient quality management  

Traditionally, shipyard quality management systems are fragmented and inefficient, often lacking communication across departments and companies. As a result, yard supervisors have to rely on inefficient paper or excel-based processes that increase costs and delays in the production process.  

  • Overextended project schedule & budget   

An important challenge within the Marine Industry is schedule and budget control. This is caused by a lack of a centralized cost control system and manual reporting and analysis monitoring. This causes delays in decision-making and higher cost overrun. Many shipyards use ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) for their Budget management. However, they should look for more Project-based cost control and Change Management processes.  

  • Wasted and overrun materials   

Excessive material waste has always troubled the traditional marine industry due to consistently poor materials used in construction and design phases. Besides, this industry focuses on materials use, which has led to the mass production of vessels with standardized designs and building procedures. As a result, unused materials are often left at the end of shipbuilding projects and are discarded. Around 60% of commercial ship's costs are often in materials; hence managing this portion directly contributes to the project's bottom line and thus for the company.  

  • Lack of structural integrity  

Structural integrity issues have long plagued the marine industry. Just a tiny crack in a ship's structure can lead to flooding and the loss of cargo or even lives, which is why it's crucial to inspect ships before they set sail. The problem is traditional inspection methods are expensive and time-consuming. Often, one must empty the whole ship before its inspection. That means that the ship might lay in port for up to two weeks while an inspection occurs. That costs money, not just in lost revenue from being unable to transport cargo but also in storage fees that can add up quickly for businesses that need their ships for regular trips.  

Why Choose Easy-to-integrate Solutions?  

Digitally integrated solutions leverage the design basis to provide an extensive portfolio of integrated, pre-configured solutions addressing yards' key work processes across the project lifecycle. It also helps combine your project information and techniques to reduce costs and improve productivity.   

Top five benefits of well-integrated solutions:

1. Integrated Engineering Design Solutions solve problems  

If you are working on any digital transformation project, one of the first problems is integrating silos. Integration of the information on product development is the first step towards a successful digital strategy. The integrated approach to engineering and design can help solve many issues from the initial phases of your digital transformation journey and significantly increase data reliability.    

2. Better Collaboration within the supply chain *including other Shipyards  

Shipyards worldwide share work to improve efficiency and close the gap on a tight schedule. Still, it can be difficult for them to collaborate when they are not operating simultaneously or on the same schedule. A digital engineering solution allows shipyards to share changes in a visual and real-time format, which helps them collaborate more effectively.  

3. Compressed Schedule  

To eliminate idle time, a well-equipped digital solution bridges the gaps between project schedule, work packages assignment, and warehouse material availability. The solution also provides a production schedule with individual work center instructions, shortening throughput times and improving resource utilization.  

4. Improved Material Management  

An intelligent solution will help achieve significant material optimization by integrating inventory, actual usage, and remnant management into the process.    

5. Consistent Change Management 

A data-centric solution can consistently manage all production process changes throughout the project. You can calculate the impact of any change to ensure that the project stays on schedule and within budget. Also, changes can be recorded and stored using the same process to ensure that the most up-to-date information is always available.    

Digital Solutions Will Be the Future Differentiator  

Overall, the integration of digital solutions has been the main driver for improvements in efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of service in the maritime transport industry. That is due to the changes within the industry that have led to significant increases in productivity and efficiency. Also, consider that many factors influence the integration of digital solutions – from data collection and analysis to remote asset management.


About the Author

Ismo is the Pre-Sales Director at Hexagon and responsible for the development of the fabrication market mainly in the EMIA region. He is based on Oulu, Finland. He has a broad experience within b-to-b sales, pre-sales and business development in the metal industries, steel prefabrication and shipbuilding.

Profile Photo of Ismo Piirainen