5 Ways Big Data Is Changing Shipping

Data is having a big impact on how we transport goods by sea


When we think about shipping, it is normally big, rusty shipping containers, dockyards and stormy seas. It is not considered to be a high tech industry by most, but the reality is that much like many other industries at the moment, it is having a data revolution.

There are several ways that it is doing this, we have taken a look at the top 5.

Structural Integrity And Predictive Repairs

Cargo ships spend the majority of the year at sea and this means that they take a beating on a daily basis. Despite being huge industrial machines, they still require considerable maintenance.

Often this kind of maintenance comes at inconvenient times though and takes place when something is already broken. Through sensors on the ship and predictive analytics it is possible to identify which areas need maintenance to avoid longer longer down time and this can be undertaken at the optimum moment, preventing delays and increasing efficiency.

Self Piloting

Through sensor driven ships, it is possible for boats to eventually become self piloting.

It is some way off yet and will require considerable amounts of data to be analyzed beforehand, but the reality is that through data it would be possible for ships to become completely self piloting. Sensors could be used to identify conditions both in terms of weather and also under the bow, then adjustments can be made accordingly.

The main benefit of this would be the improved safety from not having people needing to man these ships. According to the Guardian, around 2,000 people die at sea every year and a high percentage of these come from cargo ships.

Cargo Tracking

There are clear advantages in being able to track exactly where a piece of cargo is at any one time, simply for security and delivery estimates, but there are other elements to this that can have a significant impact on shipping specifically.

Each year there are an estimated 1,679 shipping containers lost due to a number of different factors. Through placing sensors within shipping containers the reasons for these losses can be established and the problems can then be mitigated against in the future. For instance if sensors show that a there was considerably more pressure on one side of the container before it was lost and it was went missing during particularly windy conditions, it may suggest that it is too exposed. This can then be addressed in the future through either placing the containers lower on the ship or anchoring them more effectively in specific positions.

Centralized Knowledge

One of the most important elements of being a ship’s captain is that you have the ability sail across the globe constantly, never staying in one place for too long. Although this particular knowledge of large swathes of ocean is essential, it will never replace the localized knowledge of specific areas, it is why ships often need pilots to guide them into specific ports.

Through the use of data and new technologies, it is possible to collect information on these for those on the ship or a pilot on the land. Then when it comes to moving through a difficult area, sensors can show the pilot exactly where the boat is and how it’s moving or can show the captain precisely where he needs to go. Given that the reason for pilots is the constantly evolving landscapes below the surface, data can play a key role in predicting the shifts in sandbars and other objects that cause problems for ships.

Future Design

Data can also play a key role in the design of ships in the future, bringing together the findings from sensors on older vessels in order to improve the designs and resilience of designs in the future. For instance, sensors can identify when there is excessive pressure on a hull or when a ship is tilting further than it should and using this data, it is possible to model potential designs and test them.

The ability to essentially test a design without needing to physically make it is a huge advantage and the more data collected, the better the models will be. 

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