It’s All Connected

Big data. What is it? What can you do with it? Do you actually need it and why? Just a few of the questions that can be thought of when thinking about this subject. Maritime Holland dived into the sea of data and found out what purposes it has within the maritime and offshore industries.

It is all in the name with this subject regarding big sets of data. “Technically speaking, the term big data is applicable to very large datasets. Terabytes at least. And these datasets are often unstructured and too big to be handled manually, but need to be analysed automatically in order to get the right results”, explains Dan Veen, senior business developer at TNO. “However, nowadays any kind of data exchange tends to be labelled Big Data. It is a popular phenomenon and everybody wants to be involved, but they don’t know exactly how.”


Companies can use big data for several purposes. Three are most relevant for the maritime and offshore sector according to Aske Plaat, professor of data science at Leiden University, namely predictive maintenance, scheduled maintenance and data-driven optimisation.

Predictive and scheduled maintenance is up-and-coming. Earlier, a product like an engine was ordered and delivered and that’s that. Nowadays, so much more is possible with the use of data regarding the maintenance of the engine. Veen elaborates: “When selling an engine to a ship, you can add sensors to it that measure certain values, like temperatures or pressures. However, the sensors will not tell you if maintenance is needed. For this, you need to analyze data, check for pattern changes or trends, compare the data against other data sources, and only then you can say something about engine performance. Only after thorough analysis of data, you might tell if maintenance is necessary.”

Condition-based monitoring

One company using condition-based monitoring and keeping an eye on the performance of their engines is Wärtsilä via their Remote Condition Monitoring System. Instead of planning only certain maintenance moments during the lifetime of their engines, this system makes it possible to complement the maintenance work to the actual condition of the engines.

Making the best use of the gained information condition monitoring can enable companies to widen the time between overhauls, increase the engine reliability and optimise the engine tuning. All lead to saving money, fuel and reducing emissions.

Dutch Wagenborg Shipping profits from this new type of contract. In June 2014 a six-year maintenance agreement for 15 of their dry cargo carriers was signed with Wärtsilä. “One important result of this contract is that it facilitates more efficient maintenance. Our goal is to improve technical engine performance and optimise maintenance planning. The contract also allows us to keep our operational costs more controllable”, says Theo Klimp, fleet director at Wagenborg Shipping. New and innovative for the industry is that Wärtsilä is handling all maintenance for a flat fee per operating hour, producing a completely predictable fixed cost pattern.

Offshore maintenance

Big data can also play a major role in maintenance and developments in the offshore industry, for example when
it comes to offshore wind turbines. Veen: “Wind turbines produce a lot of data, among others about their technical status but also about their efficiency for example. This data is not only useful to optimise the maintenance schedule,
but can also be used to learn about and develop new types of wind turbines. What is causing one turbine to generate more power than the other? And what is the most optimum setting of the pitch of a blade, depending on wind speed? All these questions can be answered analysing large datasets.”

In the oil and gas industry a lot can be learned from data as well according to Adam Farris, vice president of American Drillinginfo. In his article ‘How big data is changing the oil & gas industry’ he elaborates on the subject: “The processes and decisions related to oil and natural gas exploration, development and production generate large amounts of data. The data volume grows daily […]. Today, every well that’s drilled uses extensive machinery, measurement devices and people – all of which produce video, image and structured data. This area is probably the fastest growing in terms of the volume, variety and velocity of data being captured. Improving drilling and completion operations can significantly reduce costs. Data science will help the oil and gas industry learn more about each subsystem and inject more accuracy and confidence in every decision, ultimately reducing risk. Big data analytics will be key.”

Optimising the process

The third purpose described by Plaat is data-driven optimisation. Veen: “Data is the perfect tool to optimise your business processes. Take for example Cargill, a freighter, who has invested in a monitoring centre with which they can monitor every party involved in the shipping of their freight. The received data is among others used to determine which company is most efficient in terms of fuel use and timely delivery. Therefore, they are not only able to choose the cheapest supplier, but also the most environmentally friendly for example.”

Smartest port worldwide

Cargill’s monitoring system is a perfect example of one company using data to enhance their operations, but the same example can be found on much bigger scale. The ports of the Netherlands, one of the Netherlands’ biggest industries, have thought of a system that connects the data of all the parties within its industry: from shipping companies to train operators, around 3,700 companies are involved according to Marten van der Velde, manager Strategy & Innovation at Portbase. “Our ambition for the coming years is to link as many parties and information with each other and integrate data smart.”

Paul Smith, CFO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority stated in a Dutch documentary about the Rotterdam port: “When you are able to perfectly align the planning of the ship owner, the terminal operator and the freighter to each other, a saving of € 80,000 per vessel can be realised. For this, each vessel that calls at the port has to be directly guided into the port, docked at a quay, be unloaded and go on its way again. The only way this can actually be realised is by aligning all the data available.”

Portbase has developed a Port Community System (PCS) which creates a digital connection between all the data made available by parties operating in the Dutch ports and the logical chain involved. Van der Velde: “We create smart solutions which enables you to predict how a day in the port will look like.” The goal is eventually to make the Dutch ports the smartest worldwide. With the arrival of the fully automated zero-emissions terminal in the world of APM Terminals at the Maasvlakte 2, this goal is one step closer.

Anne Kregting