Digitalization of


Vastly improved maritime connectivity, the advance of cyber-physical systems and ‘digital’ twins will dominate the digital side of shipping in the coming decade, as vessels increasingly resemble floating computers.

Before 2025, many ships, systems, and components will be linked to the Internet, making them accessible from almost any location. Maritime connectivity will advance significantly, and will dramatically effect how the industry manages information.

Modern ships are becoming highly automated and are increasingly dependent on software-based control systems. Advanced software and simulation capabilities will result in more complex systems being controlled by software, while near real-time evaluation possibilities will be available, accompanied by suggestions for corrective actions by the crew and providing supply chain management decision support. Increased automation and availability of high-reliability, software-controlled, cyber-physical systems will allow for advances in automation and remotely controlled operations.

Digital copies of real vessels – dubbed ‘digital twins’ – will start to be used in earnest by the industry to explore and enhance layouts, design specifications, simulation models, data analytics, and so on. A digital twin of a ship has many potential applications throughout its lifecycle.



In the next decade, there will be a dramatic advance in the way in which the maritime industry manages information. A variety of new communications technologies will be deployed…

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New technologies on the horizon for the coming ten years include cellular networks in coastal areas; VDES (new data service on the VHF band); Wi-Fi in ports, and, most importantly, satellite communications, improving coverage and bandwidth.

Currently, the maritime industry contributes to the growth in deployment of VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminals) equipment on board ships. According to COMSYS, the number of active maritime VSAT installations quadrupled from 2008 (6,001) to 2014 (21,922), and it is predicted that the number will exceed 40,000 by 2018. By 2020, most classed vessels will be broadband capable. Also, the VSAT network capacity is increasing owing to the introduction of new high throughput satellite (HTS) systems, with two to ten times higher throughput than classical satellites.

The overall VSAT network capacity over maritime regions will experience at least a tenfold growth to some 200 Gbps in 2025, implying a massive increase in data transfer rates and decreased cost per bit for the connected vessels. According to Cooper’s Law and Edholm’s Law of Bandwidth, it is typical for wireless communication technologies to exhibit exponential growth.

Most ships, systems, and components will be linked to the Internet, making them accessible from almost any location. At the same time, combining data streams from multiple sources will boost performance management (including fleet utilization, routing, trim, fuel consumption, emission management) and asset integrity management, building on remote condition monitoring as well as allowing for an increased level of automation. This may, in turn, facilitate remote controlled and autonomous ship operations.

Improvements in maritime connectivity will allow supply chains to be more efficiently organized around adaptable operations. This could reduce lead times and fuel consumption by optimizing arrival times, and allow a better organization of operations and workforces on land for handling cargo and carrying out repairs and inspection.

Apart from enhancing safety and efficiency, ship connectivity will also answer the need for more transparent operations and help build trust and collaboration between various industry stakeholders based on the collection and analysis of shared information. Ship connectivity will provide a unique opportunity for maritime authorities to monitor compliance with existing regulations to improve safety, achieve environmental targets, and boost competition in the industry.

Projected maritime VSAT network capacity

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A cyber-physical system comprises physical components that can be monitored, controlled, and optimized by smart sensors, software and actuators.

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Modern ships are becoming highly automated and are increasingly dependent on such systems.

These extend both to normal operation functions such as Dynamic Positioning station keeping as well as to critical safety-related functions and emergency control, such as emergency shutdown and blowout preventers (BOPs).

Machinery systems of ships are increasingly being controlled by software and fitted with low-cost, smart sensors that allow monitoring of condition and performance parameters.

Control systems for ship propulsion systems, for instance, enable seamless integration of electrical components and conventional mechanical systems in order to optimize efficiency without compromising safety. Similarly, marine navigation systems will increasingly rely on advanced software and sensors to alert the navigator to possible hazards ahead, and propose appropriate courses of action to maintain a safe route. Considering the sheer ubiquity of control systems on board, it will be possible to refer to the ship itself as a cyber-physical system.

The fact that these systems are highly interconnected contributes to an increase in the overall complexity. As both normal and emergency operations depend largely on functional and reliable sensors and software, it is crucial that these are proven to function correctly – a task that is sometimes challenging for individual vendors to prove owing to the interconnectedness of the various systems. As a consequence, although sensors and software will play an increasing role in shipping, greater efforts are needed by system integrators and third party assurance providers to make sure that sensors and software are reliable enough for safe shipping operations. Thus, technologies such as hardware-in-the-loop testing are needed to check software before it is deployed. Similarly, software change management will also need to be addressed as a main critical factor for the reliability of such systems in operations.



A digital twin is a digital copy of a real ship and all its systems that allows any aspect of the asset to be explored through a digital interface.

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A digital twin of a ship has many applications throughout its lifecycle – allowing exploration of layout, design specifications, simulation models, data analytics, and so on. 

During design, the digital twin is used as a virtual test bench to improve performance of a system as well as an information management system supporting the workflow, reducing development costs and time. It also finds application in third party verification, facilitating a more automatic and systematic approach to safety assurance.

In the next decade, ship systems and related digital twins will be designed with the support of cloud-based information management and multi-model simulation platforms. These will allow different stakeholders to populate the digital twin of an asset with modules and evaluate in advance how the system will operate as a whole.

In operations, the digital twin offers several possibilities for evaluating performance and criticalities in near real-time and suggesting corrective actions, when coupled with operational data from (sensor-instrumented) equipment. Over time, increasingly detailed virtual models will be continuously populated with information collected on board, accelerating the development of industrial big data and smart analytics platforms.

This new era is in its infancy and smart ways of organizing and making accessible the vast amount of information need to be explored. New technologies that leverage the use of ontology-based reasoning, functional modelling, multi-physics simulation, machine learning, and big data are therefore being explored in the industry and by academia; by 2025, the results of these investigations should provide the basis for new standards and best practices for the management of the new digital-industrial age of shipping.

Virtual ship platforms will lead to several new ways of operating and maintaining ships and fleets, and, indeed, the digital channel may come to represent the preferred route for stakeholders in the shipping industry.

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