Is smart shipping THE Future of THE industry?
Group CEO of Gulftainer, Mr. Peter Richards discusses the progress of using smart technology within the shipping industry
Shipping is stepping into a new era where smart technology and advanced data analytics are starting to become the norm. Changes are taking place in such a short time pushing decision makers to act faster. The industry is going through a period of transition from the old traditional version of the shipping industry to a more digitally advanced one where the main drivers are the access and process of Big Data, automation, Internet of Things and limitless connectivity.
Even though this is the case shipping revolutions generally take their time, creeping up on unsuspecting ship owners who just want to get on with managing ships and moving cargo.
Mr. Peter Richard, Group CEO, Gulftainer, describes why the idea of moving towards smart shipping will take its time, “Smart shipping is a painstaking process that demands adequate time to come into being, mostly due to the range and diversity of the stakeholders involved. Whereas, the availability of technology and skills is also relatively low, with many innovations still undergoing testing. On the other hand, the shift toward new technology requires collaboration, which again is a complex process. However, a joint effort to educate the stakeholders about the benefits of change is crucial to achieving the best results.”
The debate of whether any company should go fully automated or semi-automated carries on but Mr. Richard believe there needs to be a balance when it comes to making these decisions.
“As we have seen across every industry, automation is a double-edged sword. On one
hand, it reduces or replaces certain manual functions used in legacy processes. On the other hand, automation creates new roles which require new skills to be learned by the workforce. So, the argument that automation only replaces and causes job losses is not correct. Implementation of the smart ship must run hand in hand with the human dimension because new roles and competencies will be required for smart ships, alongside the upscaling of existing job roles,” explained Mr. Richard.
“We intend to adopt a hybrid of full automation and semi-automation at Gulftainer. For example, when it comes to health & safety and quality protocols, we will work towards full automation. However, where efficiencies are considered and human intervention is key, we would favor semi-automation,” Mr. Richards added.
When asked about what changes Mr. Richard has seen in the shipping industry over the last few years, his answer is similar to what most industries are going through; mergers and acquisitions are on the rise:
“This is the age of mega-ships. As we have seen in the past few years, the biggest impact of post-panamax ships has perhaps been the string of alliances between shipping companies, rendering many fringe operators that were once behemoths to go out of business,” remarked Mr. Richard
This is largely true, and with this restructuring of shipping lines comes the challenges for terminal operators, many of whom, even today, are not equipped to accommodate these larger vessels and more cargo, all while maintaining or improving operational performance.
“The knock-on effect of ultra large container vessels (UCL), which currently stand at the 18,000+ TEU levels and are only set to grow in the next five to 10-year period, has prompted many terminals around the world to find the most effective way to process the substantial increase in cargo while managing the cost.”
Whilst container handling equipment has undergone several enhancements in response to this trend, the most widely accepted response is to adopt process automation or semiautomation across port/terminal operations.
“Ports are competing to adopt the new generation of technologies (artificial intelligence, the blockchain, IOT) to digitize and automate processes, in a bid to offer carriers pricing benefits and faster services. With the internet and associated hardware being commoditised, more and more players are moving towards ebased operations and are willing to make B2B connects for more integrated and central operating platforms,” added Mr. Richard.
Changes like this meant that Gulftainer had to make the necessary changes to compete in this ever-changing environment. “We have consistently strived to be ahead of the curve of global shipping trends, as demonstrated by our digital transformation strategy. With in-house initiatives such as our ‘Performance Excellence’ program, Empower, and the ‘Terminal Partnering’ collaboration projects with our customers. With advanced software and technology in place, Gulftainer has remained ready to welcome these mega vessels to our facilities, enabling us to offer more e-services, which minimizes the delays of querying and processing information in the legacy manual format.”
Gulftainer’s newly enhanced digital infrastructure ensures that operations can be adjusted and evaluated for efficiency. It provides realtime computing power to help operators keep up with a large amount of cargo entering and leaving ports on mega ships, while making sure that containers are unloaded and loaded without a hitch, in the shortest turnaround time.
This is where upskilling becomes crucial, calling for training programs that factor in more cognitive elements within the non-automated roles, thereby reducing the focus on physical labor. Data and analytics, for example, should empower mariners to perform better in their roles.
Mr. Richard’s concluded, “Notably, less than five per cent of container volume has been reportedly managed by fully automated terminals in the past two years, demonstrating the slow pace at which this trend is catching on. The key takeaway here is that as everything gets connected and integrated, collaboration, engagement and education and even the buyin of involved people and teams become a defacto success factor.”