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Marine Propulsion & Auxiliary Machinery

Marine Propulsion & Auxiliary Machinery

MAN’s digitalisation dream is a single platform, not full automation

Mon 13 Aug 2018 by Jamey Bergman

MAN’s digitalisation dream is a single platform, not full automation
MAN Energy Solutions Chief Technology Officer Gerhard Stix: autonomous shipping 'not the cost driver that is driving change now'

Daydreaming about a digitally-powered shipping utopia is not where MAN Energy Solutions’ Chief Technology Officer Gerhard Stix spends the energy of his working hours.

The head of MAN’s Digital Group in Munich is more concerned about the changes digitalisation can make in the here and now than he is about forecasting a future where autonomous vessels are cruising around with minimal intervention from humans, all financial transactions are being generated through block chain and spare parts are being made by 3D printers, delivered from shore to ship by drones to be installed by robots.

“At the moment I can’t see really the need for all of that,” Mr Stix told Marine Propulsion ahead of the MAN Energy Solutions SMM 2018 forums. When we look at the costs our clients have for their ships and those for their staff, they represent only a small portion of the whole. What are much bigger are the fuel costs … and also their service costs.”

A fully autonomous future is not out of the realm of possibility but it is not the factor that is driving change now and is not likely to become a major cost driver anytime soon.

A fully autonomous future is not out of the realm of possibility, he said, but it is not the factor that is driving change now and is not likely to become a major cost driver anytime soon.

“I think what we will see much earlier is that we can reduce the fuel costs and we can reduce the service costs and have a more reliable engine but also a more reliable ship,” he said, “… and then later on maybe there will be more autonomous shipping.”

By its nature, as a vendor, MAN is reactive to the demands of its market, and Mr Stix said that MAN’s awareness that its customers are focused on fuel efficiency and cost-effective service is driving his part of the business in a new direction.

Mr Stix said the industry’s initial uptake of digital technologies has presented fleet managers and shipowners with a problem that he believes MAN can solve.

One of digitalisation’s pinch points, as MAN sees it, is that each vessel system or asset built by a different OEM comes with its own IT software or “solution”.

Mr Stix said – although they are keeping the details quiet for now – MAN is laying the groundwork for a unified software solution.

“What we are planning right now is … to provide the customer with a broader IT solution [that would allow] visibility over all assets on the ship,” he said. 

“When you look at a ship, you have the engine, you have cranes, you have a propulsion system, you have the navigation system. You have a lot of assets on ships provided by different manufacturers and what we think now is that we should provide to the fleet manager one solution for all of them,” he said.

But MAN are not tackling the problem alone. According to Mr Stix, the approach is ‘open’ and ‘industry-wide’.

“I think it is essential that we work together with different companies [to ensure] the systems can talk to each other and synchronise themselves,” he said.

“We can see from other industries that partnership is really essential and to have an open, industry wide platform ...  The other approaches cannot work, it is just too expensive to put sensors on everything, it makes no sense in the end.”

Mr Stix said MAN will be ready to offer more information at SMM 2018 in Hamburg in the first week of September at its ‘Future perspectives of digitisation’ seminar – MAN has opted to use the term digitisation instead of digitalisation to describe the uptake of digital technologies.

As a digitally-focused professional in a major marine engine-building organisation, Mr Stix said he certainly sees great value in emerging technologies, but he was careful to stress that many of the technologies being discussed as industry game changers are still incubating in the early stages of their development.

 “Digit(al)isation in shipping is a journey. At the moment, there are more questions than there are answers,” he said, noting that MAN’s seminar at SMM is intended to serve as a forum for discussion industry colleagues and clients.

 “When we look 20 years ahead … I can see there is big potential in these technologies,” he said.

“They really can change the industry ... If it is machine learning, blockchain or augmented reality, there is a lot of potential in there.  We are only in the beginning right now.”       

MAN Energy solutions will be holding a series of seminars at SMM 2018 in Hamburg. Digitalisation will be discussed along with decarbonisation and energy efficiency.

Click here to see dates, times, speakers and to register your interest.

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