Leaders from across the Wilhelmsen group talk about what disruptive innovation is likely to mean for them over the next 10 years and beyond.
Regional HSEQ manager Americas and Europe, Wilhelmsen Ship Management
The only thing that is certain is there will be plenty of changes over the coming 10 years, from autonomous ships to drone deliveries and lots of other technological advancements, so it is obvious that in our business, change is the new normal.
Having said that, the challenge to keep up with the regulatory environment is unlikely to change. I expect to see the stream of new regulations to continue, especially as more automation is introduced. As the regulatory side of the business becomes more demanding, that opens up more possibilities for us to take on the ship management of smaller companies who can no longer keep up. This means there is also the possibility for more joint ventures, something which Wilhelmsen has done very well in the past.
The biggest impact of this technological change on our business will probably be in the skillsets we require. While I think it will remain important for vessel managers to have a technical maritime background and/or seafaring experience, I anticipate a new set of specialist information and communication technology roles being required. If and when fully autonomous ships are introduced, the need for such digital skills will be critical to analyse and better utilise the data generated by our business. Such analysis will also give us insight into opportunities for improvement that are just not visible today.
VP Global Marine Personnel, Ship Management
It is clear that improved technology and automation will lead to less crew on board the vessels in the future. We already see more information and communication technology (ICT) on board and that is a trend that will only continue as the industry becomes more connected. We will also see different types of propulsion systems, and also a different type of fuel mix due to changing environmental regulations. These changes will of course impact the competence we look for in the future.
Whether we get to fully autonomous ships remains to be seen. Maintenance could be done in bulk when the ship is in port, but navigation and other types of expertise may remain on board. Either way, there will be a transitional phase as some type of ships begin to automate and lower the number of seafarers on board. Onshore, I expect more real-time monitoring and support to the vessels, and eventually operational centres running around the clock which will require a very specific ICT skillset combined with maritime competence.
The requirements for engineers and navigators will change to include more knowledge of autonomous systems and the like, but beyond that there is a dialogue to be had with the training institutions. Will they be able to cope with the necessary shift? It could be that much more specialised courses from technology providers are required to top up the more traditional skills taught in the maritime academies.
Kjell André Engen
VP Marine Products, Wilhelmsen Ships Service, Marine Products
I am responsible for the supply chain of the marine product portfolio. Today we make approximately 210 000 deliveries to 6 000 customers that together own around half of the world’s entire fleet.
Although order size is slightly down, the number of deliveries has been stable the last few years. Today we are trying to consolidate more orders and deliver to less ports to make a more efficient operation. Data-based innovation will enable this and help us to take a more proactive role in the procurement activities of our customers.
We analyse what they consume, and work out where and when is the best place for them to pick up the order. If we can consolidate the process in this way, there will be fewer orders the order size will increase, resulting in a more efficient process for us and them.
While mass-scale 3D-printing is coming and will absolutely have an impact, it is not clear exactly how big that impact will be on the demand for shipping. The population of the world continues to grow rapidly, and more people will lead to more products being delivered. A lot of people point towards the changes in the car industry. Although we expect 3D-printing of spare parts, I think the cars themselves will still be shipped.
In fact, we are working ourselves on a pilot project to 3D-print some spare parts for our own products, which will cut down the number of deliveries we need to make.
Commercial Director, Wilhelmsen Ships Service, Agency
For a vessel to be able to enter a port, it needs a ship agent to coordinate all the required services including clearing the vessel, loading and unloading of cargo, and managing the changing of crew including transportation and accommodation. Today it is a very people-intensive industry, but obviously this is going to change somewhat in the future.
One of the biggest changes will come with autonomous ships that run without crew, as that potentially takes away a significant part of our current business. However, with that threat comes a great opportunity. With a crew of 15-20 people, a vessel’s maintenance needs can be largely taken care of out on the water. Take away that crew, and many of those services will need to be performed in port, and that presents a big opportunity for the ship agent.
Because of the huge number of existing vessels out there, I do not think such a scenario will be commonplace for at least 10-20 years. However, what will make an impact much sooner is the introduction of drones. A launch boat used to deliver documentation, cash, medicine or spare parts to an anchored ship can cost a customer several thousand dollars. A drone could perform the same service at a fraction of the cost, and that is only one use-case out of many for drones. As a consequence, we will be putting more resources looking into these opportunities as we move ahead in the short term.