Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Information Technology and Marine Software

By Kathy A. Smith

As technology continues to advance, maritime software companies are adapting their products to the demands of today's generation of mariners, longshoremen and naval architects. From programs that plan container stowage or maintenance routines and inspections to full-fledged ship design software, today's systems are changing the interactions between hardware, software and the user.

AMT Marine Software Inc., a privately-owned marine consulting company based in Delta, British Columbia, offers ship cargo stowage planning software for a range of ships including container ships and multi-purpose vessels. It is intended primarily for tonnage centers as well as for non-vessel operators such as container terminals, freight forwarders and shipping companies. Solutions range from stand-alone shipboard loading computer software to complex company-wide integrated ship planning, cargo tracking, documentation and electronic data interchange systems.

AMT's flagship program, SimpleStow, is designed specifically for stowage planning of container vessels and container data processing. The popularity of this program surged five years ago when the US Customs and Border Protection Agency began requiring special documents that include detailed container stowage plans in BAPLIE international standard format 24 hours before loading containers on a vessel headed to the US.

SimpleStow's user interface and graphical displays are easily accessed and intuitive for those who have minimal computer experience. The program provides a well-developed set of functions to plan container stowage, sort, filter, group, search, import-export and process container data. The program uniquely allows for a full voyage-planning scenario, not just for cargo loading in a single port.

"The main purpose of a good stowage plan is to ensure unobstructed access to containers that must be processed in all ports during the voyage with minimal containers shifting and restowage, at the same time making sure that physical limitations such as allowable stack weight, height and other parameters are not exceeded," explains Managing Director Vladimir Babakov.

In addition to an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop method, the ship planning process is facilitated by a set of built-in customizable stowage rules and automatic checks of stowage conflicts and limitations. The most complex operations in the program are supported by wizards that lead the user step-by-step through the process.

"The software doesn't require a lot of space on a computer and is highly customizable by the user," says Babakov. "With a flexible Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), cargo data can easily be imported or exchanged between any partners, including shipowners, terminals and agencies."

Eliminating the need to enter data over and over again creates savings in time and claims due to lost or mis-delivered cargo. "Port Captains mostly use laptops to work with stowage plans but I've not yet heard of anyone using a Smartphone app," says Babakov. "The main limitation so far is the size of the screen that makes it challenging working with big graphical images overloaded with data."

For almost a decade, Finland-based Eniram has been providing vessel energy management solutions to a variety of global shipowners and operators. One of their unique data-gathering products called Dynamic Trimming Assistant (DTA) helps crews run a vessel at optimum trim order to save on fuel and cut emissions.

"In order to sail at the optimum trim at sea it is important to know the dynamic trim accurately," says Director Captain Melvin Matthews. "Only then can the crew either transfer the weights on board, ballast or de-ballast to get the vessel to the optimum trim."

Eniram overcame this challenge by installing attitude sensors that include combined inclinometers and accelerometers that measure dynamic trim in real time. The data is collected continuously on the Eniram Vessel Platform (EVP) installed on board which is integrated with a vessel's bridge and engine systems.

Computation of the data uses proprietary Eniram technology which calculates the optimum dynamic trim for any given dynamic situation. This optimum trim along with the dynamic trim is then displayed on a screen in real-time to the crew on board the vessel. The optimum trim is dynamic because it is affected by almost all the dynamic factors that a vessel faces at sea rather than a fixed value for a given draft and speed.

"In our experience of more than 200 vessels we have seen an average savings potential of 2 to 3 percent by keeping the vessel at the optimum trim," says Matthews. "This tends to be higher for ships that have streamlined hulls and operate at faster speeds such as cruise ships and container vessels."
Another innovative solution developed last year by Eniram is the Optimum Speed Assistant (OSA). On a voyage between two ports it gives the most cost-effective and efficient speed profile to be maintained to arrive just in time. It takes into consideration the present and forecasted weather, currents, depths, transit through SECA/ECA areas, including engine configuration when calculating the optimum speed.

"Data-driven analysis and insights can give conclusive competitive advantage to a business," says Matthews. "Companies now have much better visibility of the performance of their vessels and the way they're being operated. With lower costs and better operational utilization, these vessels tend to have higher than average ROI not otherwise seen in the industry."

Victoria, BC-based Helm Operations (formerly Edoc Systems Group), originally developed operations software for the workboat industry, beginning in 1999, with their TugAssist product. Today, Helm offers complete enterprise information management solutions for the marine commercial transportation industry and their newest offering moves with the times.
"We are building a new platform called Helm CONNECT," says Vice President of Marketing, Rodger Banister. "The difference from our original software is that this new software is web-based, app-based and workflow-based."

Web-based is as described, meaning accessible over the Internet. App-based means the system allows for individual app purchases rather that having to buy an entire suite of modules with applications across an entire department. For instance, in the Health Safety Quality Environmental (HSQE) suite, if a company only requires the preventative maintenance application, that's all they need to purchase, then they can add additional applications or bundles of applications as required.

The most unique part of the new Helm CONNECT program is its workflow-based capability. And that means extensive client consultation through User Experience workshops. Helm personnel meet with a client company's stakeholders – everyone who is involved in a specific workflow – for an in-depth discovery process, in order to map out specific workflows that will help build out the software. Incorporated into the development of the program is the ability to compartmentalize sections so that only specific people need to see their tasks as they relate to their own individual role. "It becomes a step-by-step process and makes it a whole lot easier to complete," explains Banister. "When we sit down with them and talk about it, we become a catalyst for discovering how it is they work with each other."

Third party integration is another building block in the process of Helm's software development. The software is built on top of what's called an extensible API (Application Programming Interface), which means that any other 3rd party developer, once they're given access, can build into Helm software. "We think it's a nice solve for the market," adds Banister. "And since being acquired by ClassNK, we have the opportunity to accelerate the build so we can get to the global market faster."
Seattle-based Palaemon works primarily with maritime clients; founder Michael Armfield worked in the marine industry before beginning the new venture in 2011. The focus is on building apps for operations that help streamline and digitize a variety of functions and to help marine companies stay in compliance and pass audits for programs like AWO-RCP, ISM, and ISO.

Palaemon recently introduced Mobile Ops, a new product for harbor services and towboat operations. "It carries out a lot of paperless functions such as HSQE submissions, has a dispatch system, time cards, and a vessel management feature where you can build out maintenance routines and inspections," says Armfield. "Crew members can carry out inspections while managers or other designated people ashore can be notified if any deficiencies are created, and then start a process to get things done aboard the vessel."

Mobile Ops works on any modern device including iPhones, Androids, tablets, and computers. Crewmembers can simply fill out information on whatever device they use, then management can export the data as needed to, for instance, an Excel spreadsheet and then perform analytics.

The program has been developed with web development framework Ruby on Rails and a front-end Javascript framework, with data stored in either a document-store or a SQL database, but the end user only sees easy, intuitive prompts. "The program has a very modern and elegant user interface, big buttons and bright colors," explains Armfield. "It also adapts to the screen size of any device, all the way from the cell phone in your pocket to big laptop displays."

Palaemon also offers custom-built software solutions. In one case, an application was built for a marine company's warehouse that allowed workers to plug in pallet information and take photos of goods, which helped streamline receiving processes and also sped up productivity.

"We named the product Mobile Ops because it's anywhere; it's in your pocket or on the iPad in the galley on the boat," says Armfield. "It's data at any time which helps companies make strategic decisions and get information to the crew."

SSI (formerly ShipConstructor Software Inc.), based in Victoria, BC, offers 18 sophisticated software products specifically designed for the shipbuilding and offshore industries.

"We pride ourselves on covering the broadest possible spectrum in the marine industry in terms of the type of vessels and the types and sizes of customer," says CEO Darren Larkins. "We service very small companies with one or two people to large ones such as Ingalls Shipbuilding in the US."

In business since the early 1990s, the company began on the AutoCAD platform and a Microsoft Access database program which evolved with next-generation technologies to the point that SSI completely rewrote their software about six years ago which has garnered a new, innovative approach in 3D modeling.

"With ShipConstructor, the virtual ship is stored in a Microsoft SQL server database, and that's unique to what we do," says Larkins. "Marine companies can use this for production, purchasing, planning, and even in sales and marketing by leveraging the amount of information put in during the engineering process for all these other activities." The Autodesk platform also allows for the capacity to be able to view the ShipConstructor model in the cloud, on a tablet device or on a phone.

ShipConstructor's use of commercial, off-the-shelf technologies such as AutoCAD and Microsoft SQL Server allows it to be integrated with other business processes and applications and ShipConstructor's Marine Information Model provides real-time, concurrent engineering enabling all engineering disciplines to work within a single integrated environment that incorporates common shipbuilding standards, concepts and terminology.

Newly released, due to feedback by SSI's innovative new Client Council program, is ShipConstructor 2014 R2.1, which is now being used earlier in the design process, because clients also want to reuse the information at later stages in order to avoid rework and prevent errors. "Our total solution is much more than just what we make," adds Larkins.