The shipping industry

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, the international shipping industry carries around 90% of world trade. “Ships are technically sophisticated, high value assets (larger hi-tech vessels can cost over US $200 million to build), and the operation of merchant ships generates an estimated income of over half a trillion US dollars in freight rates.”

A successful application of AI to shipping technology is predicted to revolutionise this critical mode of transportation.

Current progress

According to Lloyd’s Maritime Agency, “AI is becoming increasingly important for the maritime industry. The rise of automation in the maritime supply chain along with the demand for more autonomous shipping has led to an increase in the demand for AI”. Among the most promising applications of AI within shipping they highlight predictive maintenance, intelligent scheduling, and real-time analytics.

AI in shipping

Predictive maintenance (PdM) is “a prominent strategy for dealing with maintenance issues given the increasing need to minimise downtime and associated costs. One of the challenges with PdM is generating the so-called ‘health factors’, or quantitative indicators, of the status of a system and determining their relationship to operating costs and failure risk.” [1] In shipping, PdM enables the scheduling of corrective maintenance before the vessels are on open waters, where repairs are significantly more challenging and costly. The AI-based system warns of looming failures in advance, thus helping the workers predict the optimal maintenance cycle of on-board machinery. In addition this enables the warehousing of spare parts in advance; reduced overhead costs; energy savings; and improve productivity.

Intelligent scheduling enables faster turnaround time of vessels and high-berth productivity — “paramount factors in container terminals for assuming competitive advantage in the shipping industry. […] Vessel scheduling/berthing system in a container terminal is regarded as a very complex dynamic application in today’s business world.” [2] Recent advances in AI can dramatically simplify this process leading to significant improvements in efficiency and cost reductions.

Big Data and real-time analytics are predicted to dramatically transform shipping: “A world where ships can ‘talk’. It may sound like a tagline for a science fiction movie but it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds — such ships could be
coming to a sea near you within 10 years. […] Voyage data will be collated and used to enhance performance, productivity, and crucially, safety.”

[1] Gian Antonio Susto et al. “Machine Learning for Predictive Maintenance: A Multiple Classifier Approach.” IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics, Volume 11, Issue 3, June 2015.

[2] Prasanna Lokuge, Damminda Alahakoon. “Improving the adaptability in automated vessel scheduling in container ports using intelligent software agents.” European Journal of Operational Research, 177(3):1985-2015.