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The Shipping Industry in the Age of Digitalization

How New Technologies Shape the Shipping Industry Today

Think outside the box – that phrase can be used to describe what happened more than 65 years ago when the first container was invented. The most important tool in our industry was born from the annoyance of truck driver Malcom McLean. As he was tired of waiting for the cargo being loaded for hours and days on end, he simply developed his own solution: the standard container. After initial skepticism among his peers, today the container is as indispensable in shipping as transport vessels.  


The story mentioned above is a prime example of innovation in our industry. Of course, the requirements for innovation are far higher today than they were back then. Especially in a traditional industry such as shipping it can be a bit overwhelming to adapt to changes and challenge the status quo. But where would we be if there never would have been any changes and innovations? Probably still using wooden boxes and linen bags to transport cargo.

Let's take a quick look back at some inventions and what possibilities innovation offers us today. The biggest innovations in shipping stem from digitalization and the aim to be more sustainable. 

If you want to be part of the digitalization and the future of shipping, go and check our digital tools in the Online Business Suite to unleash you digital potential.

Automation and Artificial Intelligence

With the Covid-19 pandemic acting as the catalyst for digitalization in recent years, the usage of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) has risen in shipping. Especially AI-powered algorithms can help logistics companies to create accurate predictive models and see data in real time. Thanks to AI container ship owners benefit from improved plannability and can adapt to changing weather and shore conditions or even route changes due to several reasons like accidents at sea. In combination with the automation of certain processes, routine tasks can be carried out more efficiently and save time and money overall. Especially the automation at terminals could increase productivity by 15 percent suggests a customer survey by Navis.  

One great example for the use of AI is provided by the Startup ConnexBird. The company developed a small box that’s attached to a loading crane and other lifting equipment in ports. Once a container is lifted, a small hammer automatically strikes the container and causes vibrations. A sensor measures those vibrations and calculates if the container needs to be repaired or checked and how long it can still be used. This model is already in place in the ports of Rotterdam and Helsinki. 


Cyber Security

Hand in hand with the increasing level of digitalization comes the increasing level of security breaches. Just like in an office the IT infrastructure aboard has evolved into sophisticated setups that need to be protected from unauthorized access and against harm from cyber-attacks. Hence, in January 2021 the DCSA published a guide with some general measures and best practices to take to prevent the risks of cyber-attacks. The guidelines also align with the BIMCO and NIST frameworks and are directed at cyber security managers in the maritime industry and seek to establish a management framework and common language when it comes to cyber security. Especially for smaller companies without extensive resources to prevent cyber-attacks, these guidelines come in handy.  

Cloud Technology and Internet of Things (IoT)

A big topic in shipping is the decentralization of data and the data exchange in real time all across the globe. It also enables people to access documents from anywhere and quickly exchange knowledge and experiences within the cloud. For the shipping industry this offers a lot of potential. For example, it is already in practice to digitize documents such as the Bill of Lading. Thus, the risk of fraud and stealing can be minimized as the eBL is not only digitized and in the cloud but also protected by blockchain technology.

Another possibility is shown by the Hamburg-based startup NautilusLog. They strive to create a digital Logbook and take the manual workload away from the crew. Thanks to GPS and cloud technology with such apps it is possible to automatically track the vessels’ location as well as the corresponding weather and course data. But not only the crew aboard can digitize documents and profit from cloud services. 

IoT stands for Internet of Things. It refers to a network of devices and other objects that contain sensors and network connectivity. The most commonly known form of an IoT device are smart home appliances. In the shipping industry, IoT devices are used to monitor cargo.

Not only other companies offer IoT technology that you can benefit from. We at Hapag-Lloyd strive to create the world’s smartest container fleet by the end of 2023. How? By equipping all of our containers with a smart IoT device that can not only track the exact position of the shipment at any given time but will also be able to provide smart ETAs, temperature and shock data with way more smart data to come in the near future.

In some pilot projects in Hamburg and Rotterdam it was successful to use 5G networks to exchange data between vessels and mainland that took various factors like weather, water levels, currents, salinity and more into account. Thanks to 5G it was possible to transmit data within a millisecond. The project in the port of Rotterdam went even further and used sensors on quay walls, waterways and even dolphins to track tides and other relevant factors. The knowledge gained then can be used to prevent traffic jams in ports, terminals and other well-used waterways. IoT technology was also used to test some news ways regarding maintenance and construction.  



All in all, the use of IoT, AI and other digital processes can make shipping safer and more efficient while reducing operating costs. And depending on the progress of the ESA test series with the 5G satellites mentioned in this text, they could soon be ready for operation.  

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