People outside the shipping industry rarely appreciate the inherent challenges we face in ensuring that American designed shoes, manufactured in Vietnam, are always in stock and on shelves in Hong Kong sneaker stores day in and day out.
Or those German cars are sat in the showrooms of Australian dealerships in time for a key market release. So what do you think it takes to keep 90% of world trade ticking over?
Competent, motivated and dedicated people. Driven by an urge to modernize but operating within the framework of a plethora of regulations. It is training, preparedness and competence which remain the foundations on which our industry is built.
However, shipping is currently in the midst of a major transformation and it is arguably the most significant it has ever faced. As a relatively isolated industry is currently being disrupted from all sides, by a number of unlinked, regulatory-driven issues. These are forcing the industry to develop and find new ways to respond.
Digital developments that have taken other industries by storm years ago are now ripe for the taking by the maritime industry, at scale. Many of these technologies have been tried and tested with good results in other applications and markets, offering efficiency gains that we simply cannot ignore. Augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies are one such area.
A new development for the maritime industry, every company needs to understand its own position and capability to potentially adopt this technology.
The opportunities these technologies give us are both tremendous and unprecedented.
For example, using augmented reality for shore-based staff to easily identify systems and parts required, or equipment installation planning dramatically reduces the time needed to procure.
Virtual reality models for dangerous work processes ensures familiarization for new crew, or practice for experienced crew, helping them avoid costly mistakes. Mixed reality can significantly enhance capabilities and service levels for field service technicians.
A key element of simulation-based training, gamification, and virtual reality offers us the ability to cross the language barrier. Visualization and graphical approaches mean that training is more intuitive and therefore embedded in muscle memory. For emergency training, saving vital minutes due to this practice could literally mean the difference between life and death.
The convergence of this magic trinity for Industry 4.0 is now taking the shipping industry by storm. With data, computing power and communication coming together, overcoming accessibility limitations in remote deep-sea locations, the application of these technologies is just a short step away.
But challenges remain. The dramatically short supply of quality 3D models for ships, ship-based systems, and specific vessel installations is one key issue. To embrace a digital culture on a human level in this traditional and by default conservative industry is the other obvious challenge.
We, at Wilhelmsen, have worked hard to take the first steps in this new direction, developing our AR tool for use in conjunction with our range of marine products. In addition, we are working on introducing a VR welding process training package that enables training, competence assessment and certification.
The ecosystem is being built up and together we can work towards being both safer and smarter. What the shipping industry needs most is to bridge the vast domain competence that sits within the industry, with the technological expertise that has successfully implemented these new tools in other industries. Adopting this new technology to solve key pain points as an industry we can work together to ensure that all our stakeholders respond to this new opportunity in a proactive manner. All doing our bit to shed this boring, staid reputation that the industry is painted with, shipping can take its rightful place in the competition to attract the talent and expertise of tomorrow. Such small steps towards shaping the maritime industry will help ensure international trade continues safely and sustainably, leaving consumers with better things to worry about. Like which Air Jordans to buy or whether it’s time to upgrade their SUV.