Almost every technological advancement in history was considered impossible before it became the norm. Imaginative digital developments are currently leading the way in revolutionising business processes around the globe.

All along the maritime supply chain, ‘digitalisation’ represents a variety of innovations. Processes are being brought up to date with new technology which saves time and boosts safety, while new machinery is being created to usher in a new era for shipbuilding, port transactions and more.

What are the opportunities of digitalisation for ship owners, suppliers, authorities and other marine businesses?


Shipping and transportation

Round-the-clock tracking of transportation services is already in full swing, and largely expected by end-users. Digitised documentation offers an accurate, computerised way to track cargo, fulfilling a number of logistical roles and automating the more labour-intensive parts of maritime transportation.

Blockchain technology, which creates online databases that are harder to tamper with or mistakenly alter than paper records, could recover billions of dollars lost to coordination costs in the shipping industry, according to the director of research at IBM.


Digitalised ports 

Ports are evolving, with authorities already working to optimise operations by coordinating each stage of a vessel visit. Digitised ports will collect and share data from each operation to improve efficiency, security and environmental impact.

Further still, the Port of Qingdao in China is Asia’s first fully automated port terminal. The unmanned port automatically anchors cargo ships and unloads their containers, and is quicker, safer and 30% more efficient than a traditional port.


Autonomous ships

Vessels already use digital weather data and auto navigation, but ships which are fully automated and crewless could be coming very soon. Self-driving, they would be monitored from control centres on shore and manned only by drones.

What’s more, smart ships could boost performance, productivity and safety by using nanotechnology (microscopic sensors in paint and coatings which report data, such as the strain they are put under by certain weather conditions) and ultra sensitive monitoring (for example, acoustic fibres which can detect minute changes in vibrations).


Supply chain 

Manufacturing processes will almost certainly be revolutionised by digitalisation, as factory hardware becomes smart. Armed with sensors and the ability to report errors, breakdowns and productivity statistics to managers, unexpected stops can be kept to a minimum and performance can be optimised.


Data and digital platforms

The use of data is already widespread; for example, satellite navigation. But the potential for gathering and analysing ‘big data’ is huge with digitalisation. Adding sensors to ships could generate information about currents, wavelengths, wildlife, obstacles at sea and more – all of which could then be studied from land.

Meanwhile, digital interfaces are being designed with a more user-oriented, easy-to-use approach than ever.

Digitisation opens up new business models, as new technological advances expose new opportunities to influence the marine supply chain. Has your business adopted any digitalised processes yet?