Many uses of digital twins in maritime industry

The digital twin is an industrial control and automation system concept that is widely used in various industries. It is gaining traction in the maritime industry, which has become largely focused on software-driven automation and control systems.  Given the prevalence of digital twin technology, individuals with the right skills are in hot demand.

Digital twins are not a new idea. It is a digital representation of a physical object or system. The object being studied for example, a vessel, is outfitted with various sensors related to vital areas of functionality. These sensors monitor and capture data about different aspects of the physical object’s performance, such as energy output, temperature, weather conditions and more. This data is then relayed to a processing system and applied to the digital copy. 

According to the International Business Machines (IBM), digital twinning is a technological leap “through the looking glass” into the very heart of physical assets. Digital twins give us a glimpse into what is happening, or what can happen, with physical assets now and far into the future.

In short, creating a digital twin can allow the enhancement of strategic technology trends, prevent costly failures in physical objects and also, by using advanced analytical, monitoring and predictive capabilities, test processes and services.

Better vessel design and operation

“Using digital twins for control system software throughout the lifecycle will help to avoid cost, prevent risk earlier, reduce the time for new systems to enter service in the field, improve systems interoperability, and enable superior system performance,” said Bjørn Johan Vartdal, head of the Maritime Transport research programme at DNV GL.

Aside from control system software, vessel components and machinery systems, and ship hulls are areas digital twins can make a valuable contribution.

“Hull sensors sending data to a digital twin would allow you to correlate stress on the hull to weather conditions in which a ship has sailed, for example,” Vartdal suggested. “It would let operators improve the way vessels are operated in certain weather condition or might show why and how operations should be restricted in some cases.”

Digital twins give companies an unprecedented view into how their vessels perform. A digital twin can help identify potential faults, troubleshoot from afar, and ultimately improve safety and customer satisfaction. It also helps with product differentiation, product quality, and add-on services, too. This technology would enable companies to make better decisions for future sustainable business operations.

Efficient fleet management

Shipping companies serve a wide range of clients at the same time, and clients may also use different shipping companies simultaneously. Thus, a shipping company needs to maintain and gain competitiveness by optimizing its fleet in terms of cargo carrying capacity. 

The digital twin can perform sensitivity analysis based on past, present and future predictions of business transactions. It could form the basis of strategic decision-making by testing a variety of scenarios for trade patterns and shipping fleets.

In terms of operational decision making for fleet management companies, the digital twin can scan through diverse contextual factors, such as weather conditions that create atypical situations and other options that needs to be reviewed. Thus, digital twinning technology allows test of virtual vessels in real-life situations and study the modifications that may be required.

Good fleet management would improve efficiency and productivity, reduce costs, stay compliant and improve customer satisfaction.

Enhancing port and terminal efficiency

Port efficiency relies on balancing demand and supply in a flexible way and integration within the entire transport system. A port is dependent of a continuous inbound and outbound flow of cargo and passengers arriving and departing from the port by different means of transport.

For strategic planning, a port will need to capture historical, ongoing, and predicted future trade through the digital twin. Port decision-makers should include factors such as investment in infrastructure, port design, and terminal capacity into the model.

The digital twin would be able to address questions such as how many berths are needed for the port need to meet punctuality goals, or how much yard space is needed to allow for different customers to store their cargo as it moves between transport services, either shipping or other modes.

The digital twin’s real-time and historical database is also an organized dataset for propelling properly coordinated port operations with synchronized operational planning. It could be used to formulate a virtual arrival system and understand green steaming as well as the to optimize the use of trucks, trains, and infrastructure for diverse needs.

Provide situation awareness for all parties

Cargo owners, goods dealers, and end-customers seek transparency and predictability on the movement of their goods.  A digital twin can reveal the repercussions of a delay in one stage of the journey, thus allowing analysis and adjustments to be made.

The linking of relevant twins provide real time data of ships.  As such, digital twin is a tool used to track shipment from origin to destination so that key stakeholders can gain long-term situational awareness. This creates a portal for collaborative decision-making, which usually forms when a common goal like emission control measures, making maritime eco-friendly is to be taken.

Digital twins also help with offshore oil and gas operations.  Virtual oil rigs are made possible by digital twinning and will provide easy-to-understand dynamic updates on asset condition and operational parameter states. 

Digital twinning optimizes the whole chain of operations, starting from development concepts and continuing through design, construction, transportation to location, installation, hook-up and commissioning, operations, and eventual decommissioning. 

By keeping operators dynamically updated on asset conditions, the digital twin can enable understanding of barrier status quantitatively at all times, a step-change improvement to safety management, and help to optimize scheduling of costly inspection, maintenance regimes and provide an early warning system.

“Poor information management can account for up to a fifth of operational budgets,” said Øyvind Endresen, Technology Leader in DNV GL’s Environmental Risk Management unit. The digital twin model can prevent losses and boost margins, which is important to an industry where an unscheduled downtime may cost US$2 to 5 million per day.

End-to-end supply chain optimization

Containers pass through many transport hubs and are managed by different carriers in the end-to-end supply chain. The use of smart containers have created a more efficient, safer and more sustainable shipping supply chain through supply chain optimisation. The data streams generated by smart containers are a valuable source of data for digital twins, whether retrieved from a data lake or handled real-time as a data stream.  This information are beneficial towards fleet optimization, port and terminal optimization, and situational awareness as elaborated previously.

A digital twin for supply chain optimization will provide transport buyers and coordinators opportunities to optimize the choice of transport mode and route for serving their clients. This should strengthen their strategic relationship to transport producers, such as carriers and transhipment hubs.

Digital twin can also be a basis for optimizing the flow of empty containers to meet the on-time delivery requirements and repositioning the other containers to terminals, depots, and cleaning stations. Thus, smart containers prove to be critical in gaining a better understanding of the supply chain via digital twinning.

Enhanced safety and security

As cyber-physical systems and connectivity multiply, there are increased cyber security threats. Corporate IT and OT systems are being exposed to ever more external networks and devices through the Industrial Internet of Things, and as more assets become remotely supervised, controlled and maintained. Digital twins can help to predict and mitigate through supervising such assets, with proper maintenance and control over such remotely accessible system data.

Digital twinning can be used as a mean to evaluate changes to a security of a system as if it were made on the real deployed application, without touching the production environment.  This makes it possible to manage real security incidents more effectively.

By simulating risks in a virtual environment mimicking the real world, digital twins help companies get better at predicting where hackers will strike, how the attack will unfold, and how damaging it will be. With this kind of knowledge, organizations can take preventive measures and minimize impact of cyber-attacks while also staying one step ahead of potential attackers.

“Digital twins are becoming a business imperative, covering the entire lifecycle of an asset or process and forming the foundation for connected products and services. Companies that fail to respond will be left behind,” said Thomas Kaiser, SAP Senior Vice President of IoT.

Photo credit: iStock/Ekkasit919

Jessica Loh

Jessica Loh

Jessica is a maritime student who is currently navigating her way through the industry.

The best maritime news and insights delivered to you.

Here's what you can expect from us:

  • News & key insights covering the maritime industry
  • Expert analysis and opinions on maritime corruption and more
  • Exclusive interviews