Smooth Sailing: Data’s Role in the Maritime Supply Chain

The world’s supply chain continues to adopt modernized approaches as consumers expect fast, often overnight delivery of goods. By replacing manual processes with digital transformation tools and connected technologies, supply chains are boosting their efficiencies, visibility, and flexibility to build resilient end-to-end operations. 

Many businesses now rely on implemented technologies like autonomous mobile robots (AMR) and warehouse management systems (WMS) to streamline workflows and gain real-time views into the point-by-point handling of goods across supply networks. A tremendous amount of data is being collected and analyzed about the movement of goods to avoid delays and bottlenecks. However, this data is missing a crucial primary step that impacts all subsequent supply chain stages.

Before goods are received at a warehouse or distribution center, they must safely and reliably travel from ship to shore. Maritime transport is the foundation of global manufacturing and trade. It’s reported that 90% of world trade is carried by maritime vessels. More than 50,000 ships are dedicated to transporting an estimated 11 billion tons of goods each year. The average reliability of container shipping lines arriving on time has historically hovered around 66% – leaving significant room for improvement.

If a maritime vessel requires unplanned maintenance while transporting cargo, this causes significant delays and disruptions to the on-time arrival of goods. With such an impact on our daily access to goods and the global economy as a whole, the digitalization principles that are revolutionizing critical phases of the supply chain should also be applied to how we maintain and monitor the structural health of the vessels that transport goods across the sea.

Drive Efficiencies to Reduce Vessel Turnaround Time

Corrosion is a common challenge for maritime vessels. These vessels are subject to corrosion from erosion that wears down protective coatings or exposes bare metals to corrosive materials and the harsh effects of sea water. Since maritime vessels endure constant contact with reactive elements as they transport goods from port to port, corrosion is an ongoing issue.

A ship’s structural health is critical to safely delivering goods on time while remaining seaworthy. Ships are required to pass safety surveys and inspections to ensure the ship’s condition is suitable for sailing without any problems. The key to meeting these requirements often comes down to how a vessel is maintained over time. 

Taking a proactive approach can help identify, assess, and mitigate problem areas before issues or failures occur. This helps keep ships on schedule, avoiding additional downtime, maximizing productivity, and optimizing efficiencies for optimal vessel turnaround times. 

Among the various types of required surveys and inspections, a dry dock survey involves removing the vessel from the water to inspect portions of the ship that are typically submerged. Inspection technologies like ultrasonic thickness testing are often used, where ultrasonic waves are sent through the surface to understand the health of the vessel. The gathered thickness readings give the ability to confirm the structural health of the ship and locate areas that need to be monitored or repaired. 

This dry dock process is extremely beneficial but also expensive, time-consuming, and complex. Typically, a dry dock project lasts from ten days to several weeks depending on the work being performed. Each day spent in dry dock is another day that the vessel is out of service and incurring costs. If dry dock activities aren’t performed efficiently, the ship can remain out of service for extended periods. Any unexpected damage found during dry dock can lead to unplanned costs, additional man hours, and delays in on-time completion. 

It is important to implement the right technologies and techniques during dry dock windows. A simple visual inspection can identify some of the easy-to-see issues, but there is no quantifying the extent of the damage. Manual inspections take things a step further by providing measurement data, but this method is time intensive, provides sparse data coverage that is subjective, and can be dangerous with inspectors operating at hazardous heights. With traditional methods, an inspector will take manual readings at various locations, creating risk of misclassifying damage or missing it altogether. Failing to accurately and objectively identify areas of concern raises the risk of unscheduled maintenance or issues at sea.

Accelerate Decision Making with a Data-Driven Approach

These outdated, subjective processes can be modernized to improve the accuracy and efficiency of asset health analysis. Robotic assessments can gather high-density data in a fraction of the time, providing maximum visibility into asset health without adding downtime. 

Industrial robots can be deployed to scan and gather unprecedented data without the need for scaffolding or man-lifts which require workers to operate at hazardous heights. The collected data points are used to create actionable visualizations and digital twins to understand the vessel’s condition comprehensively. 

By harnessing the power of digital technologies and data, decision makers can confidently prioritize their maintenance plans based on the findings and avoid unplanned dry docking. Like a WMS platform with material handling data, AI-powered software platforms unify the captured ultrasonic data, making it quick and easy to understand the scope of structural concerns – many of which would have otherwise gone unnoticed using traditional inspection methods. 

Data-driven decisions provide speed and efficiency, allowing decision makers to spend their time on more valuable initiatives. Digitalization of maintenance and inspections across the maritime supply chain will boost reliability, crew safety, and on-time delivery for fleets to optimize utilization. 

Expanding the Possibilities for Digital Transformation

While digitalization has been embraced in certain portions of the supply chain, there are opportunities to transform other vital phases, including how we maintain maritime vessels transporting cargo. All subsequent supply chain processes are dependent on goods initially arriving on schedule. Without a safe, reliable maritime vessel carrying the cargo, on-time delivery is left up to chance. 

Outdated, manual processes can be replaced with tech-forward, digital solutions. We can modernize how we protect, monitor, and maintain maritime vessels through the use of accurate, in-depth data insights. Successful adoption of digital technologies will ultimately help reduce costs, streamline planning and procurement activities, and optimize operations. Better visibility into asset health means more reliable, future-proofed fleets. 

With the right technologies, fleet maintenance can be managed proactively to avoid disruptions, delays, and safety issues. High-quality, dense data visualizations drive faster decisions and efficient maintenance plans that keep ships safe, seaworthy, on time, and reliable for a more resilient supply chain for years to come.

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