Maritime Future Summit: Gazing into the crystal ball


The debut of the Future Summit one day ahead of SMM, the leading international maritime trade fair, was a full success. Leading experts discussed innovative technologies, new strategies and future visions which will lend new impetus to the industry.

Hamburg, 09/26/2016 – Times of economic difficulties call for fresh ideas, and the maritime industry is no exception. Innovative technologies and services increase efficiency, thereby strengthening the sector. At SMM 2016, the leading international maritime trade fair, the focus was clearly on innovation as the basis for the future of shipping. On 5 September 2016, one day before the beginning of SMM, the Maritime Future Summit took place for the very first time, explicitly focused on the industry’s key trends. “The best approach to predicting the future is to shape it,” said Professor Volker Bertram from World Maritime University who moderated the conference. Under his chairmanship, two panel discussions staffed with top experts explored the focal topics, “The Future of Shipbuilding” and “Digitalisation and Automation”.

“One thing is certain: the shipping industry is undergoing massive change,” said Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL Maritime, in his opening keynote address. In particular, he added, alternative fuels are moving center stage. Apart from LNG, ethanol, fuel cells and batteries will gain in importance. New technologies are changing the way crews work on board ships. The “Digital Twin” concept is an example: “The ability to reproduce ships digitally, and the use of drones fitted with high-tech cameras will reduce the effort involved in ship maintenance and mitigate safety risks,” said Nilssen.

The power of data

Paolo Tonon provided some fascinating insights into the future of shipbuilding. He is the head of Maersk Maritime Technology (MMT), a laboratory for the future within the world's biggest container ship company, with over 140 engineers constantly working on improvements to the fleet in service. The company uses on-board sensors which deliver a constant stream of performance data to reveal potential areas for optimisation. “Our Triple-E ships have more than 3,000 sensors on board, each of which collects two Terabytes of data,” said Tonon. This information allows the company to optimise parameters such as hull shape, engine design and cargo carrying capacity. On the other hand, Tonon believes container ship size has reached a ceiling. “Building even bigger ships would result in the costs exceeding the benefits,” he stressed. The fact that big data are a decisive factor for the shipbuilding industry was also one of the core messages delivered by Denis Morais, chief engineer of the Canadian company SSI, in his speech titled “Constructing Ships for Captain Kirk”. Morais presented a fascinating outlook on the increasing variety of ship forms designers will be able to work with in future.

Benjamin Vernooij, Internet of Things (IoT) and End User Computing Lead at Dell OEM Solutions, took an excursion into the the Internet of Things (IoT). He called on shipbuilders to incorporate the Internet of things into processes, ensure faster, more reliable collection of data, and improve competitiveness. Avoiding the topic of digitalisation means running the risk of being pushed out of the market, he emphasised.

The Chief Executive of the maritime business unit of the technology giant Siemens, Matthias Schulze, explained how advanced propulsion technology can boost the efficiency of ships sustainably, and what systems are most likely to be successful in the future. In his opinion, hybrid ships are the most promising answer to the ecological and economic challenges facing the shipping industry. He recommended using ferries to test new concepts.

An age of innovation

The current tense market situation will produce more innovations in the next five years than the shipping industry has seen over the past five decades. This is the assumption voiced by Willie Wagen, Director Market Innovation at the Finnish ship engine manufacturer Wärtsilä. Innovative technologies will include zero-emission ships, refuelling, loading and unloading hubs located on the open sea, as well as Factories at Sea – ships processing and packaging products such as Brazilian coffee beans or fresh fish from Alaska for delivery to their destinations.

Another future topic on everybody's mind is unmanned ships. Oskar Levander, Director, Concept Design, Marine Lifecycle Solutions at the engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, expects to see the first unmanned ships in ten years. Another ten years on, as many as one tenth of all ships might be sailing without crews, he said. “Up to 95 per cent of all accidents are caused by human error. This means that unmanned shipping can help increase safety while saving up to 20 per cent of operating costs,” Levander predicted.

In his closing address, Dr Carsten Wiebers, Global Head of Maritime Industries at KfW IPEX Bank, and a member of the SMM consultative committee, gave a more general outlook. “The demand situation will remain at the current level for several years to come. This means that the market will continue to change. Forward-thinking projects focusing on sustainability and efficiency will continue to attract investors,” Wiebers said.

From digitalisation and big data to innovative propulsion technologies and unmanned ships, the future of shipping is beginning to take shape. At the Maritime Future Summit co-organised by the industry magazine HANSA, experts were able to give attendees from all segments of the industry some specific ideas of what the future of the industry may look like.