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3 ways to avoid vessel downtime

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Shipping is the lifeblood of the global economy, yet the industry’s profit margins are tight. Hence, continuity of operations is critical. Operational disruptions are costly, not only for shipowners but for other key players in the supply chain.

Downtime costs the world’s top companies billions in revenue every year. The maritime industry is no exception. In the long term, unwarranted vessel downtime can chip away at a shipping company’s competitiveness, profits, and ultimately its reputation.

Here are 3 essential steps to help you achieve increased vessel uptime and stay as cost-effective and competitive as possible.


1. Implement IoT predictive maintenance

The number one step to keeping your vessels in continuous operation is simple: Avoid equipment and machinery failures.

Any engine room operator will beg to differ, though – avoiding equipment outages and machinery breakdowns altogether in a complex and rough marine environment is anything but simple. It’s utopic.

With the advent of IoT and onboard sensors, however, steering clear of costly, unplanned downtime has become a lot more achievable. More and more shipping companies are seeing the operational and commercial value in implementing predictive maintenance.

So what exactly is predictive maintenance? In a nutshell, it’s about predicting problems before they result in downtime.

By using sensor systems to monitor the actual condition of equipment and machinery 24/7, any deterioration and looming failure can be dealt with proactively. This allows your crew both onboard and onshore to predict the maintenance cycle of equipment and machinery.

A key benefit of predictive maintenance for ships is the ability to schedule preventive maintenance before the vessel is far out at sea, where repair work is more challenging to accomplish and often results in downtime, or at least slowdowns.


2. Deploy drones and ROVs for inspection

Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are already widely used for vessel inspection and survey operations in the maritime industry. Inspecting hard-to-reach areas such as cargo tanks, confined spaces and tall structures on deck often necessitates the use of scaffolding, hung staging equipment and other specialised solutions. Such operations pose HSE risks and typically result in downtime.

With drone technologies, both regular and emergency inspections can be carried out quickly and safely. DNV GL and other classification societies have started using UAVs for remote inspection of bulk carriers and container ships.

The use of remotely operated vehicles (ROV) for underwater hull inspections during transit and when entering port is also gaining ground. ROVs such as Fleet Cleaner and Deep Trekker provide a cost-effective way to perform marine surveys and ship inspections without diver intervention and without downtime.


3. Protect your ships from cybercriminals

20 years ago, if you told a shipowner that way into the future, in 2019, one of his technically sophisticated, multi-million dollar cargo ships could be put out of commission for weeks by a pimple-faced teen sitting at home messing around with code, he would probably either burst out laughing or look at you like you were out of your mind.

Two decades later, what was once laughable is now a reality.

The growing use of computers to execute a multitude of operational tasks like autopilot, electronic charts and other navigational aids, coupled with an increasing number of onboard IoT and monitoring systems, has increased the amount of information available to cyber attackers and the potential attack surface to cybercriminals.

As ships are becoming more and more integrated with shoreside operations, with the use of digital communication to conduct business, manage operations, and retain contact with head office, critical shipboard systems might be connected to open networks – and thus become prone to malware attacks.

Such attacks, targeted or random ones, can cause serious vessel downtime. According to BIMCO’s Guidelines on Cyber Security Onboard Ships, a dry bulk ship was delayed from sailing for several days because a virus infected its ECDIS:

“The failure of the ECDIS appeared to be a technical disruption and was not recognized as a cyber issue by the ship’s master and officers. A producer technician was required to visit the ship and, after spending a significant time in troubleshooting, discovered that both ECDIS networks were infected with a virus. [...] The delay in sailing and costs in repairs totalled in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (US).”

Incidents like this, with malware compromising operations, makes the need for robust approaches to maritime cyber risk management more important than ever before.

In today’s volatile cyber risk reality, the only realistic way to prevent cyber attacks and malware from hampering vessel operations and causing unexpected and prolonged downtime is to implement advanced cybersecurity services that provide multiple layers of detection and protection measures.

Read more: The key to best practice maritime cybersecurity

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3 ways to avoid vessel downtime
Written by Walter Hannemann, Product Manager

Walter Hannemann started his career in a computer factory product development laboratory in 1983, while taking his education in Electronics and Information Systems. Since then, his jobs have involved software architecture and development, infrastructure design and overall IT management, in both large enterprises and startups. With a passion for “making things work”, shipping applications and all digital things onboard ships became his interest after joining Maersk in 2008. Managing IT in large companies like Maersk Tankers and Torm has given him insider’s knowledge in the shipping industry and enticed his entrepreneurship to help moving the industry into the digital future. Based in Copenhagen as Product Manager for Dualog, Walter enjoys finding solutions for big (and small) problems while keeping the overview and a forward-looking approach, with deep dives in technical subjects when necessary – or possible.

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