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  • Melvin Mathews

Going Digital: from "Complexity to Simplicity"

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

LNG ships are specialized modes of transportation of natural gas as cargo, which by its very delicate nature of being carried in cryogenic liquid form, dictates efficient and safe cargo management on-board. LNG cargo, due to its volatility and special nature, is affected greatly by temperature and movement, causing continuous boil-off. This means the boil-off needs to be continuously dealt with on-board. Traditionally it has been burnt off in the main boiler used for propulsion and in the latest vessels it is being consumed in the engines. Any additional energy not required for propulsion can be burnt in the GCU (Gas Combustion Unit) or dumped in the form of steam produced in the boiler. Some modern ships also have the capacity to re-liquefy the boil-off and send it back into the tanks.

With data from latest sensor technology, one can monitor the LNG in the tanks, the boil-off rates and all the operations on-board.

Unlike in the past, latest modern communications capability has made it possible for personnel onshore to get visibility of all operations on board. The four identified key areas where digitalization can help LNG shipping are:

  • Asset management

  • Operational efficiency

  • Commercial optimization

  • Design & Development

Analysis of collected data gives an idea of how the ship is operated during the voyage, how the cargo is managed on-board, etc.

Sufficient data allows the creation of a digital twin that can be compared with the actual ship in operation.

Asset management

In the case of asset management, each vessel can be compared with the digital twin in relation to maintenance, ageing, breakdowns etc. The digital twins can also be used for simulations, such as ageing, that can help with predictive maintenance, drydock planning, gauging benefits of hull modification, containment system degradation etc. For ships that are built to last over 40 years, this not just means ensuring reliability of the LNG ships as assets for business, but also maximum availability for commercial utilization throughout its lifetime.

Operational efficiency

When it comes to operational efficiency this could mean a digital twin for a class of sister ships. Each sister ship can be compared with the digital twin with respect to speed profiles, boil-off rates, cargo management, fouling growth, fuel consumption, heel optimization etc. Data gives the possibility of comparing a ship’s present voyage with a similar previously executed voyage, as well as the capability to simulate a future voyage and its requirements to ensure its viability.

Commercial optimization

Digitalization has given the biggest edge to commercial optimisation. Unlike in the past it has brought transparency and visibility of operations to all parties. It has not just allowed monitoring Charter Party compliance, but ship deployment based on individual vessel efficiency and commercial performance across the fleet. Data driven insights from ships in operation also helps better business decisions when it comes to ship acquisition plans and new building programs.

Design & Development

Finally, data from existing ships is shortening the design lifecycle of hull forms, tank containment systems and other equipment onboard. Based on collected data, equipment manufacturers are improving the design and efficiency of their equipment and machinery, and also closely monitoring the running hours, consequently improving components, increasing the maintenance intervals and even proactively supplying critical spare parts based on performance, to prevent breakdowns.

All these areas have been considered impossibly intricate in the past, but are now enabled only because of data and analytics. What used to be complex structures and silos of expertise constructed to run the entire LNG shipping business is being disrupted by digitalization.

Suddenly in an unprecedented manner data has brought the transparency and visibility that was lacking across the LNG shipping segment.

This will give agility and competitive advantage to the early adopters of digital solutions and will certainly cause transformation in the way business is done. Would it be too audacious to say data has brought simplicity to an otherwise complex business of shipping LNG?

Let me know your thoughts.

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