Once regarded a traditional laggard, the shipping sector is witnessing strong tailwinds in the technology space. Large ocean carriers such as Maersk, CMA CGM and others have now trained their focus on advanced technologies such as data analytics, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain for container shipping. Technology giants such as Microsoft, IBM and Hitachi, along with a few start-ups, are developing innovative shipping solutions based on these technologies.
Maersk has recently launched a technology initiative named the OceanPro Programme in collaboration with tech start-ups such as KrypC, Zasti, iNatrix, MintM and others to explore technologies such as blockchain, AI, machine learning, computer vision, IoT, virtual reality and data mining. Meanwhile, CMA CGM has entered into a seven-year partnership deal with Infosys to develop AI and automation platforms for customer experience excellence. CMA CGM has also tied up with U.S. tech firm Shone to develop autonomous technology for cargo ships.
Among these technologies, AI has emerged as the hot pick for ocean carriers as they try to address pressing issues such as mounting fuel consumption, safety risks due to bad weather, loss of containers, etc. Hong Kong-based ocean carrier OOCL has taken early steps toward leveraging AI / machine learning by collaborating with Microsoft. This collaboration will enable it to predict accurate schedules of vessels, which will improve network operations and efficiencies, and help the company save $10 million annually in operations.
AI platforms are also arming carriers with insights on inventory management, accurate estimated time of arrival, predictive maintenance, payment cycles and rerouting or suggesting low-traffic areas using advanced data processing techniques applied to huge data piles related to shipping orders, weather information on shipping lanes, ship maintenance schedules, etc.
What it Means for Buyers
AI’s current adoption across the spectrum of the shipping supplier base is auguring well for buyers too, as it offers the possibility of improving process and cost efficiencies. AI can, for instance, identify the right speed for a given water depth and suggest an alternative route — which can save 25-30 percent of fuel costs, a major cost component for container shipping services. Teekay Shipping and Eagle Bulk are among suppliers that are adopting AI to offer cost-effective solutions.
Similarly, to prevent loss of containers in the ocean due to collisions, buyers are now using AI-based Vessel Navigation platforms from suppliers such as Maersk that provide ocean environmental insights such as hazards / obstacles present, location and possible behaviour of the surrounding vessels. These platforms are enabling sailors to safely navigate their vessels and take remedial actions whenever necessary.
With more than 80 percent of intercontinental trade taking place via oceans, leveraging AI solutions is expected to create a windfall of benefits for buyers in terms of major cost savings, better safety, increased supply chain visibility, risk mitigation, etc. No wonder more and more carriers, big or small, are looking to adopt AI in the coming months.