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The smart ecosystem

Smart shipping (TARKASTA KÄÄNNÖS)

The fundamentals of every industry are being shaken by digital disruption and the ramifications of integrated connectivity. Touching upon so many places in the marine value chain, Wärtsilä could be said to have a unique opportunity as the industry develops in this direction. Mauro Sacchi, Director, strategy and business development, Marine Solutions, explains how a newly unified approach to smart technologies will truly unlock the offering’s potential.


“The fundamental principle of Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine Strategy is ecosystem thinking,” says Mauro Sacchi. “This is very much related to the process of digital transformation that is happening around the world, and in many other verticals.”

Sacchi points to the automotive sector by way of example. Autonomous cars are just one component of the revolution now taking place in land-based transport as a result of connectivity and data sharing. But as individual units, without the networks of route, usage and service data they rely upon – all supplied and managed by different entities – such vehicles are virtually useless.

So it is with the marine industry, explains Sacchi. “No one company alone can drive the transformation – co-creation is required to drive progress in the right direction.”

From vessel to value chain

This is the guiding motivation of Wärtsilä’s new Smart Marine Strategy, which Sacchi describes as a strategy for applying to the marine industry the epochal changes taking place in the wider world. 

“Its scope is actually far broader than simply vessels – even automated vessels” he explains. “It is actually better defined in relation to the value chain. In principle, everything that happens from port to port – where the ship is just one element of the ecosystem – is in focus here.”

Simply stated, the ‘smart marine’ capability, as Wärtsilä sees it, is what allows the company to connect an intelligent vessel with two smart-technology-equipped ports, while striving to optimise every process taking place in between.


Smart Marine Ecosystem

Smart marine in practice

Naturally, Sacchi maintains, the various segments in the maritime industry – such as container vessels, cruise ships, and oil and gas – have different drivers in play, but there are certain commonalities that can provide an open platform for progress on this topic.

“If we try to simplify this picture for a moment, we have a ship, if you will, moving from one location to another. There are some systems to manage: the allocation of the boat, anchoring, some logistics to execute in the harbour, and then the vessel sails some distance, before arriving and undergoing a similar process once again.”

“If you take this value chain from end to end,” he continues, “and you imagine how to create the optimal ecosystem in which it can exist and function, it would be one in which every process takes place flawlessly. In principle, there would be zero waiting time due to delays, or issues of any kind at terminals – no delay whatsoever at either the point of embarkation or the destination.”

“And then it follows that between the ports there would also be no inefficiency, either due to the ship’s own waiting time or because of not taking other vessel traffic properly into consideration. The same would apply to weather conditions, and the capability of the ship itself.”

“And last but not least,” Sacchi says, “it’s also the fact that you might want to address the capacity of the fleet. Perhaps you have ships that are not optimally loaded, meaning that you have a lot of traffic where the utilisation rate of the assets is not optimal.”

The ‘smart marine’ capability is what allows Wärtsilä to connect an intelligent vessel with two smart-technology-equipped ports, while striving to optimise every process taking place in between.


All of these elements can be considered to be waste within the ecosystem, be that waste of tangible resources, or simply time and effort. Sacchi arrives at the final, critical point, namely that minimising this waste through the application of innovative technologies, new ways of working, disruptive business models, and industry-wide cooperation is the principal aim of the Smart Marine Strategy.

An industry transformed

While these changes necessitate a number of new technologies, Sacchi emphasises the fact that the chief benefits will be recognisable to all ship owners and operators:

“The application of smart technologies to the marine sphere confers three major benefits,” he explains. “First of all, efficiency – allowing operations based upon the minimal use of resources. This doesn’t necessarily mean crew – but also natural resources like fuel and so forth. It is an optimisation exercise on a much broader scale than just one component.”

Where personnel are concerned, Sacchi points out, rather than reducing crew size, the automation of certain vessel functions is more likely to give crew members the resources to run the vessel at its optimal capacity. This is no unmanned robotic future, but rather one in which the machines do what they do best and the humans likewise.

“Secondly,” Sacchi continues, “we contend that the ecosystem of the future will be carbon-free, with the least possible impact on the environment – possibly none. We are striving for this goal also in the maritime sphere.”

“Finally, but just as importantly, the third significant benefit is the enhanced safety of operations. This is always present in our thinking, and with the advent of smart technology, there are real advances to be made here.”

Minimising waste through the application of innovative technologies, new ways of working, disruptive business models, and industry-wide cooperation is the principal aim of the Smart Marine Strategy.



The customer appetite

Futuristic thinking can take time to set in, and customer adoption of new solutions is no given, but it is heartening to see that Sacchi’s encapsulation of these benefits chimes well with current expectations within the industry.

In August of 2017, Wärtsilä successfully tested its remote-control ship operating capability off the North Sea coast of Scotland in collaboration with Gulfmark Offshore, the U.S.-based operator who provided the vessel for the project. Upon taking the opportunity to discuss the smart marine ecosystem with the company’s CEO Quintin V. Kneen, a number of familiar chords were struck.

“Initiatives like this provide a lot of potential to grow, and to capture efficiencies,” Sacchi pointed out, “but there is a lot of work to be done.”

“In order to truly get to the automated vessel stage, for example, we have to address so many factors. Pushing towards this goal means that every process has to be standardised. I believe we will see a real sea change in terms of standardisation in the near future.”

For Kneen, and in all likelihood many others in the offshore industry, safety is perhaps the greatest benefit of increased automation through smart technology


“Offshore oil-field installations are notoriously difficult environments,” he said. “If you can get your processes down to the point where everything is automated and standardised, you’re taking people out of the equation. People are, of course, very concerned that you’re reducing labour, but that’s not why I embrace it. I embrace it because it makes things safer in the offshore oil field. There are plenty of jobs for everyone in the offshore sector. Trying to get the people who are in harm’s way out of harm’s way through automation is key.”

“The primary driver is safety,” he emphasised. “Safety through automation and the standardisation of smart technology. That's going to be something that people will come to fully embrace.”

And this is not to overlook the parallel importance of efficiency. Kneen foresees that developments already seen in the land-based transport sector will come to impact the shipping industry as well, eliminating inefficiencies and reducing the pollution generated by vessels doing needless work.

“Become more efficient and you’re going to burn less fuel, and by burning less fuel you’ll create less pollution. Standardisation, much like we see in land-based logistics, will allow offshore operators the benefits of sharing resources to maximise efficiency.”

The connected portfolio

As the tone of this discussion may suggest, there are still advances to be made in this area, and the future is not to be predicted. Customer confidence is an important asset, however, and Sacchi is keen to reinforce the sentiment with reference to Wärtsilä’s existing offering.

“The strength of this company, and what we believe to be the foundation that will allow us to even be a player in this game, is the fact that we have the industry’s broadest product portfolio,” he says. “Because whenever new smart technologies do kick in to enable all these new benefits, at the end of the day we will still need vessels.”

“As long as you need ships, this equation will boil down to hardware. That’s where we have been strongest historically, and that’s what we need to build this journey upon. This is where the adventure begins for us, because we have such an extensive portfolio of solutions – which gives us by some way the largest installed base and, you could infer, the greatest potential.”

Wärtsilä explores future trends and concepts


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