For shipping companies, fuel is the biggest expense after employees, and a major contributor to environmental impacts.
In fact, maritime transport emits around 1000 million tonnes of CO2 annually and is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Maritime freight business Stena Line is committed to sustainability by reducing fuel consumption and minimising the environmental impact of their operations.
And now, in partnership with Hitachi who are leaders in Social Innovation, Stena Line are developing an AI model that will predict the most fuel-efficient way to operate their vessels. The hope is that AI will be one initiative that helps them to achieve their aim of reducing fuel consumption by 2.5 % annually.
Analysing data from the company’s vessels, the AI system looks for patterns and factors that lead to either high or low fuel consumption. To do this a number of variables are combined in various different ways: including currents, weather, water depth and the ship’s speed. It would be impossible to do this manually.
Vessels already have autopilot systems which compute the shortest distance from one point to another. But the environment in which ships operate is dynamic: the direction and strength of winds and currents can quickly change. The captain has to manoeuver their vessel without having full knowledge of the influence of these changes. This can have a significant impact in terms of extra fuel consumption.
Humans and AI collaborating
That’s where the AI system comes in to play. The system looks for the combinations of variables that most affect fuel efficiency. It flags up bad practice and identifies best practice. The most efficient speeds and trim profiles can be suggested, while at the start of the voyage the optimum amount of water ballast can be identified. The vessel’s captain can use this information when making decisions.
The first pilot study of this innovative approach is taking place with Stena Scandinavica, on the Gothenburg – Kiel route, under the supervision of Senior Master Jan Sjöström, who has been working with fuel optimisation at Stena Line for the last 40 years.
“Planning a trip and handling a vessel in a safe and, at the same time, fuel-efficient way is craftsmanship”, says Senior Master Sjöström. “Practice makes perfect, but when assisted by AI a new captain or officer could learn how to fuel optimise quicker. In return, this contributes to a more sustainable journey”.
Stena Line intends that the whole company should be assisted by AI by 2021, becoming “the world’s leading cognitive ferry company”. The pilot study on Stena Scandinavica is the first of several studies of AI-assisted ferry trips within 38-ship fleet.
Ram Ramachander, Chief Digital Officer at Hitachi Europe, explains how working with a variety of stakeholders is delivering better results. “By taking a co-creation approach, working together to combine industry expertise with data and AI, Hitachi and Stena Line have been able to show how digitisation can optimise existing physical assets to create a better outcome”, he says.
The experiments don’t stop with the optimisation of shipping routes. AI is already being used in other areas such as administration, finance and customer care.
And in the spirit of Social Innovation, the solutions found will be “open source”, so that other shipping lines can benefit from Hitachi’s knowledge, enabling fuel to be saved on shipping routes around the world.
Image under licence from iStockPhoto.com, credit kellingo