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AI in Shipping

The national and global importance of shipping

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, the international shipping industry carries around 90% of world trade. “Ships are technically sophisticated, high value assets (larger hi-tech vessels can cost over US $200 million to build), and the operation of merchant ships generates an estimated annual income of over half a trillion US dollar in freight rates.” 

A successful application of AI to shipping technology is predicted to revolutionize this critical mode of transportation and bring the innovator a strategic advantage over the rest of the industry.

According to Lloyd’s Maritime Academy, AI “is becoming increasingly important for the maritime industry. The rise of automation in the maritime supply chain along with the demand for more autonomous shipping has led to an increase in the demand for AI.” Among the most promising applications of AI within shipping they highlight predictive maintenance, intelligence scheduling, and real-time analytics.

Predictive Maintenance (PdM)

Predictive Maintenance (PdM) emerges as a crucial strategy in addressing maintenance challenges, aiming to minimize downtime and associated costs. The maritime sector, with its colossal vessels, encounters unique challenges in maintaining the health of onboard machinery. PdM, enabled by AI algorithms, allows for the proactive scheduling of corrective maintenance before ships embark on open waters. The AI-based system predicts potential failures in advance, empowering maritime workers to optimize maintenance cycles. This not only saves costs but also enhances productivity, reduces overhead expenses, and enables the strategic warehousing of spare parts.

Intelligent scheduling

Intelligent scheduling enables faster turnaround time of vessels and high-berth productivity – “paramount factors in container terminals for assuming competitive advantage in the shipping industry. […] Vessel scheduling/berthing system in a container terminal is regarded as a very complex dynamic application in today’s business world.”  (See Prasanna Lokuge, Damminda Alahakoon. Improving the adaptability in automated vessel scheduling in container ports using intelligent software agents. European Journal of Operational Research, 177(3):1985-2015.) Recent advances in AI can dramatically simplify this process leading to significant improvements in efficiency and cost reductions. Intelligent scheduling stands as a beacon for optimizing vessel turnaround times and high-berth productivity, critical factors for gaining a competitive edge in the shipping industry. The traditional complexities associated with vessel scheduling/berthing systems in container terminals are being tackled with recent advances in AI. The deployment of AI can streamline this intricate process, leading to substantial improvements in efficiency and cost reductions. This transformation is not merely about faster turnarounds but about redefining how vessels seamlessly navigate the complex dynamics of modern container terminals.

Big Data and Real-Time Analytics (RTA)

Big Data and real-time analytics are predicted to dramatically transform shipping. “A world where ships can ‘talk.’ It may sound like a tagline for a science fiction movie but it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds – such ships could be coming to a sea near you within 10 years. […] These ‘smart ships’ of the not-so-distant future will be able to ‘talk’ through the use of nanotechnology in paints, coatings, and materials, while ultra-sensitive monitoring through the use of acoustic fibres will allow the detection of minute changes in vibrations. In this brave new maritime world voyage data and data from ship strictures, components, and machinery will be collated and used to enhance performance, productivity, and crucially, safety,” according to an expert risk article by Allianz

Looking ahead, the scope of AI in shipping extends far beyond predictive maintenance, intelligent scheduling, and real-time analytics. From autonomous shipping and route optimization to weather forecasting and fuel efficiency improvements, AI applications are poised to touch every aspect of maritime operations. Moreover, the potential benefits ripple beyond efficiency gains to include environmental sustainability and enhanced safety protocols.

As we sail into this AI-infused maritime future, it is imperative to navigate responsibly. Considerations of ethics in AI, such as potential job displacement and the need for robust cybersecurity measures, must be addressed. Striking a balance between technological advancement and ethical considerations ensures that the industry benefits not only economically but also ethically.

In conclusion, the winds of change are propelling the shipping industry into uncharted territories, guided by the transformative potential of AI. Predictive maintenance, intelligent scheduling, and real-time analytics are the vanguards of this revolution, but the horizon promises even more innovations. The collaboration of human ingenuity with AI technologies will define a new era of shipping, where efficiency, safety, and sustainability harmoniously navigate the seas of tomorrow.