Smart shipping, the future of maritime shipping?

Eric De Paauw

Vessels that are able to sail and operate completely by themselves? A few years ago that sounded as if this would take decades, but not anymore. The development of self-driving cars and drones inspires many industries, including the maritime branch. Not without reason. Read this blog to find out more about some developments in this area and how the seals of Lagersmit may contribute.


To start off, smart shipping can be divided in two categories: unmanned ships and autonomous ships. The difference between these two categories is that unmanned vessels are ruled by an operator from a control center onshore. On the opposite, autonomous ships use a computer on board that takes decisions about the route, speed, fuel consumption, maintenance and even mooring in the harbor. To make sure everything is under control, an autonomous ship is always connected with an on shore control center.


Mikael Mäkinen (President of Marine at Rolls Royce) - “Autonomous shipping is the future of the maritime industry. As disruptive as the smartphone, the smart ship will revolutionise the landscape of ship design and operations”


What is the impact of smart shipping?

One sensitive result of highly automised vessels will be the reduction of personnel. However experts doubt if the human factor can totally be left out of the equation, it is likely for crew sizes to shrink to an absolute minimum. As a consequence, less facilities will be needed, to leave more space for goods to be transported. A second result will be increased safety. Around 70 to 80 percent of marine accidents at sea are a result of human error and with new smart vessels this is likely to be minimised. A final high impact point will be efficiency in traffic. Johan de Jong from Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN) says that the capacity of waterways can be increased because of autonomous ships. “You can adjust the traffic and avoid that ships sail in each other’s territory or have to wait for each other at locks. This increases the traffic flow.


Current projects in the industry

The impact of smart shipping is huge in the maritime world. It’s a hot topic in the industry and lots of companies are setting up projects to remain in-sync with this development. A few remarkable projects are described below.



Rolls-Royce introduced a project in June 2016: AAWA (Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications). They are working on an unmanned cargo ship which will be driven from the shore. Their goal is to let this ship sail in 2020. For this project Rolls-Royce works with several maritime companies, such as Deltamarin, DNV GL, Brighthouse NAPA and Inmarsat. At this moment the company is testing the sensors and the light detection and ranging under variable weather conditions on a ferry in Finland.


Read more about this in an interview with Oskar Levander, Vice President of Innovation, Marine at Rolls-Royce.



In 2014 the Norwegian classification society DNV GL introduced the project ReVolt. This coasting navigation ship is driven by electricity and will transport, load and unload containers autonomously. However, this program will start when there are enough industrial partners. Until then DNV GL will work with a scale prototype (1:20) of 3 meters.



Yara Birkeland

Norwegian fertilizer producer Yara and maritime technology firm Kongsberg Gruppe are working on a project to build the world’s first autonomous ship: Yara Birkeland. In 2018 the vessel will be tested with a captain and a small crew and the goal is to have the ship fully autonomous in 2020.

Check their website for more information.


How can Lagersmit contribute to the development of smart ships?

Whether it’s a smart ship that is ruled by a computer or a regular ship that is operated by a captain: vessels must be able to sail. Smart ships don’t have staff on board to repair emergency problems immediately, so it is very important that the vessel keeps going and that it’s possible to notice any trouble directly.


Lagersmit’s Supreme Ventus® and Supreme Athmos® guarantee zero-emissions of oil and can prevent unexpected maintenance by measuring the condition of the seal at any time. This is called the Conditioning Monitoring function and especially for smart ships this is helpful, because it’s possible to measure the condition of the seal from a distance. The Supreme SeaGuard® seal features an additional ‘spare’ oil-seal, that may be activated in case of trouble. All solutions are designed for optimal lifetime to ensure your Peace of Mind.

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