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With around 80% of global trade by volume and over 70% by value carried out on waves, there is no denying the fact that maritime transport has remained the backbone of international trade and the global economy. It has proved to be the most affordable and efficient way of ferrying goods over long distances at a fraction of cost as compared with the other modes of transport like rail, road and air.
However, lack of speed in adoption of new and evolving modern age technologies still remains a challenge for this sector, leading to inefficiencies and delays. Evolving customer expectations, however, has made it crucial for the companies in the sector to keep up with the digital age.
The good news is that a host of start-ups have emerged in this space that are helping the industry digitize and bring effective solutions to the various challenges faced by it by their technology offerings. According to Tracxn, a market intelligence platform, there are 47 marine shipping start-ups in India. The technologies offered by these start-ups range from robotics to AI, machine learning to internet of things (IoT), blockchain to drones, and augmented reality in order to not only help maritime industry deal with various challenges but also help create a safer, efficient, and more productive environment to carry out export and import trade. Entrepreneur India takes a look at how these start-ups are solving some of the most pressing issues of the maritime shipping industry and helping it reinvent.
Hull inspection via Robotics: A hull is the most exposed part of the ship to the water, and therefore most crucial also. When the ship sails, there is an unwanted build-up of sea life on the hull. This not only slows down the speed of the vessel but also burns more fuel, producing higher costs and more carbon emissions.Therefore, it requires regular inspection. But the same is a dangerous, challenging, and tedious task. Traditionally, human divers used to perform their work while the ship is moored in port or docked. However, taking the vessel completely out of the water when it is not required can waste a lot of time and money. But now with the help of robotics, this problem is being resolved. Some of the start-ups that are working on this technology include Planyl technologies and EyeROV.
“Underwater inspection of ships’ hulls is a cost-effect alternative to drydocking or performing diver inspections. Our Remotely Operated Vehicle ROV, EyeROV TUNA is used to perform safe and efficient hull inspections. The piloted tethered submersible vehicles (which are controlled from the control station via a tether) are an alternative to diver based inspections or drydocking which is rather time consuming. The system is connected to a laptop and data is retrieved easily from it.The ROV system can be attached with specialized payloads for cleaning of marine growth,” says Johns T Mathai, CEO and Co-Founder, EyeROV. However, Mathai feels that the awareness about remotely operated vehicle based inspections is still a challenge “We are mostly employing manual methods and acceptance for robotics inspection will require policy level interventions,” adds Mathai. Underwater ROV which can go up to depth of 200m TURT is already launched. It can withstand higher water currents for offshore applications. The company has also launched Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) iBoat Alpha for marine surveillance and bathymetric applications.
Digitizing procurement of supplies: For a long time, procuring ship supplies and consumables used to be a tedious and time consuming process for seafarers. The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) softwares used were complicated and manual, requiring use of excel sheets or PDF’s to make requisitions and purchase orders. With no catalogues, one had to mention brand names and attach images. There were also concerns about the quality of products. But with the emergence of start-ups like Shipskart ,the procurement scene is changing fast. The process is now streamlined and the seafarers and shipowners can order supplies at one click and get it delivered at the shore in the fastest way.
Says Captain Dhruv Sawhney, CEO and Co-founder, Shipskart, “During my tenure on various vessels, I found the experience of quasi-manual procurement deeply inefficient, leading to wastage of time and money. So, we extensively researched the procurement space to better understand how to streamline it and directly connect ship owners with suppliers in one common marketplace. Now seafarers and ship owners and managers enjoy a reliable and seamless experience that is 100% digital throughout the ordering and delivery of marine goods and services to vessels operating around the globe. Our core offerings are the complete ship supplies end to end solutions dealing in all major categories.”
The company has already opened three warehouses in India- Mumbai, Cochin and Gujarat and is set to open three more in Chennai, Vizag and Kolkata. The Amazon-like marketplace can be integrated with the in house ERP of any shipping company and can be accessed on an app. “With our marketplace, maritime companies can now focus their time on what’s really critical to drive value on the management front. To date, the company has processed 3000+ successful orders across the world, delivering savings of up to 20% to valued clients,” adds Sawhney.
Operational efficiency from vessel performance analysis: Data gathered from ships during voyages can give deeper insights into voyage metrics to help achieve various efficiencies like fuel savings and downtime reduction. Startups like Oceanix and SmartShip hub are active in this space. To assess the vessels, the data is taken from the ship, which would either be IOT sensor data or daily averaged manual data that arrives in cloud via email or an API.
Fuel savings: The single largest cost category for ship’s running expenses is fuel. It accounts for roughly 50–60% of the whole cost. Based on knowledge of ship performance, its degradation, and performance change following intervention, Oceanix assists ship managers in making decisions about energy-saving solutions. One, by regulating hull, propeller, and engine degradation through monitoring and scheduling intervention. Second, through energy-saving technology (ESS)- trim optimization and route optimization. Trim optimization helps in choosing the trim with the lowest drag based on draught and speed, which is different from the standard trim by aft condition. Route optimization helps choose a route that, although longer, will have lower fuel consumption while arriving at the same time. This is possible by knowing in advance the weather at all routes as well as effect of the weather on fuel consumption. Third, by offering solar installation aboard ships, as well as wind solutions that may provide electricity to lower generator load, as well as thrust that can additionally likewise lower propulsion burden. “Each of the three categories of products offers a different amount of fuel savings,” says Sandith Thandasherry, founder CEO, Oceanix.
Adds Joy Basu, Co-founder, SmartShip hub, “We have more than 3500 data parameters coming together every few seconds. By using this kind of data, we are able to find out fuel pilferage. The latter is a big pain point for a lot of shipping organizations. Because we knew how much was the fuel, how much was filled in before the start of the voyage and during the voyage, so we can’t have misquoted figures. Also it brings efficiency through different algorithms that we use because the vessel is tracked 24/7 every few seconds, we churn out trends of how it was faring-when was it doing well, not doing well and reasons are openly available and referred. With this, people have huge information set to go by and improve operational parameters also.”
Downtime reduction: Besides helping save on fuel and costs, these start-ups help ships cut down on downtime (downtime for a vessel is when a ship is not sailing due to technical, mechanical or electronic fault) by predicting in a variety of areas. One single time of downtime of one day or two days mid sea for a vessel can be as expensive as half a million dollars. “The data coming in from the vessel on our platform help ship owners predict the condition of the main engine, fuel required, expected time of arrival (ETA), procurement, spare parts ships needing in next one or two months, also giving them an ability to predict at what point in time equipment can go kaput. Using algorithms and high frequency data from vessels, we are able to accurately pinpoint how long a machinery will function and when it will need replacement. It gives clients tremendous capability to manage their assets and proactively take care of it so that a ship never has downtime,” opines Basu.
Winds of change: The age-old and almost reluctant to change maritime shipping industry is increasingly understanding the importance of going digital and slowly adapting to the technology offered by start-ups.
In interaction with Entrepreneur India, Maersk, a shipping line and global integrator of logistics, revealed that it is leveraging the capability of start-ups through its venture client model-Explore, which is vertical agnostic. Here it is engaging with start-ups (which at a mature state).
The start-ups are being leveraged for improving the landside transportation visibility and for learning and development of new recruits. “We have one system that tracks the movement from port to port, and extension of that system tracks the rail journey, but tracking visibility of our containers on roads used to happen on a different platform. For the same, we had to depend on third-party vendor. It may or may not have the tracking system. So we partnered with a start-up to use its platform and track the entire movement. We also onboarded third-party vendor on to this platform, so that it doesn’t have to build one and neither do we. The platform connects with our system through API and every activity that happens is uploaded on the system. Customers do not have to scroll through the mails and can track the entire movement of our containers on our website,” says Laxman Phansalkar, Explore Program Lead, Maersk Growth.
“Training recruits on our ships or warehouses is an essential but often a lengthy process. So we also have a partnership with a start-up to produce a VR environment to introduce fundamental concepts to recruits,” adds Phansalkar.
Camilla Ley Valentin, Head of Explore, Maersk Growth, opines further, “It’s completely critical for us to engage with start-ups. We have strategic roadmaps for all areas. So, we really need this very much, and we are very aware of this. And at the top level of the company, there’s a great willingness in leveraging start-ups. We have no desire to build things ourselves if it exists out there in a usable form from a start-up.”
Besides shipping companies, the exporter community also have high hopes from such start-ups. Says Dr. Ajay Sahai, DG, Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), “In logistics, a lot of improvements are possible through technology. The processes and procedures if they are simplified and are brought on a digital network will help a lot. If we want to provide support on a mass scale in the short term, technology is the only answer. I am sure these start-ups will bring the best technologies at the doorsteps of Indian exporters.”
Getting a boost: To support start-ups in the marine sector, in November 2022, the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) joined hands together. Under this initiative, start-ups can get up to INR 50 lakhs as seed grants and Rs 1 crore as prototyping grants. There will be equity funding for start-ups at the scale-up stage. IIT Madras will provide incubation, mentorship, training to start-ups selected under this program. The applications will be invited twice a year to identify start-ups for funding under seed fund, pilot grant and equity investment scheme. As per the mandate, the startups should have competencies like an idea to develop a product or a service with market fit, viable commercialization and scope of scaling, and should be using technology in its core product or service or business and distribution model to solve the problem being targeted.
Apart from IIT Madras, CSL has also partnered with IIMK Live (the business incubator and entrepreneurship development centre of IIM Kozhikode set up with the support of department of science and technology, govermnent of India) for implementation of the start-up policy framework of CSL. “The programme will not only help CSL to identify and on-board potential technologies and solutions, but also to enable innovative solutions to specific problem statements related to maritime. Associations with startups can help to tap opportunities in the emerging global maritime landscape characterised by digital transformations (IoT, connected ships, etc.),” says an official of CSL.