How Indian startups are helping global shipping firms adopt new tech

If Titanic had set sail in 2019, Jack (the hero of James Cameron’s blockbuster film on the doomed ship) would probably have survived. As would have everyone else and its precious cargo. Today’s weather tracking software would have warned of the looming iceberg well in advance and the cargo-tracking platform and other software would have given information on any delay in the shipment or abnormal fuel consumption pattern.

In recent years, the shipping industry has undergone a huge transformation in the use of technology. While most of the innovations have been geared towards passenger convenience and safety, it is only now that cargo ships are warming to these ideas. Today, shipping companies and cargo owners around the world are not only tracking cargo ships, but also the cargo they carry. And a lot of these innovations are being driven by Indian technology startups that are leveraging big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and image processing to give valuable insights to global shipping firms.

Take A P Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, which manages some three million containers. Earlier, once these containers reached the ports, there was no way the company could track them, unlike containers that were in transit. However, thanks to Linkeddots, a Bengaluru-based startup, Maersk is now able to track the movement of the containers ferried by road with the help of the global positioning system (GPS) fitted to the trucks carrying the containers as well as to the mobile phones of the drivers.

The Danish company is working with another Indian technology startup, Zasti, to detect and predict damages to shipping containers. The Chennai-based firm has created a platform powered by image analytics and machine learning to understand the extent of the damage and also to control future damage. For example, when a picture of a damaged container is uploaded on Zasti’s platform, it gives insight on whether the damage needs to be fixed and, if so, at what cost. Traditionally, this work has been done by physically examining the containers — a time-consuming process.

The innovation is critical as the global shipping industry spends around $3 billion every year on repairing containers. Currently, Zasti is working with Maersk on a pilot to track 200 containers per day at Chennai port. Once it is fully operational, this solution is expected to reduce repairing costs by at least 20 per cent.

The shipping industry is a vital part of the global freight transportation system and transports 90 per cent of the world trade. It is the most affordable and efficient mode of ferrying goods, given the large volume of cargo that ships can carry over long distances at a fraction of the cost of other modes of transport like rail, road and air. According to rating agency CARE, the Indian maritime industry accounts for close to 14 per cent of the country’s GDP.

CARE says demand is the major driver of carrier revenues, and integrating their services with commodity chains and other value added services using business intelligence (BI) has become vital for the growth of shipping companies. Carriers are integrating logistics businesses such as just-in-time inventory practices, supply chain integration and logistics information system management.

Maersk is using a Remote Container Management (RCM) system which leverages cold-chain technology to track the condition of refrigerated cargo. “A GPS, a modem and a SIM card on all 270,000 of Maersk’s refrigerated ‘reefer’ containers enables location, temperature, and humidity and power status readings to be continuously collected and stored,” reveals Steve Felder, Managing Director, Maersk South Asia.

This information reaches customers and RCM global support teams via satellite transmitters fitted on around 400 of Maersk’s ships.

Maersk has also teamed up with IBM to collaborate on a blockchain-enabled platform called TradeLens for digital supply chains, allowing multiple trading partners to collaborate by establishing a single shared view.

Again, thanks to technology, shipping firms are also able to accurately predict weather conditions. The innovation by IBM-owned The Weather Company comes into play here. The new IBM Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System (GRAF), which is updated hourly, will be the first commercial weather system that can even predict thunderstorms. The system, which may be functional later this year, is expected to provide an almost 200 per cent improvement in forecasting resolution for much of the globe (from 12 to 3 sq km).

“We can predict data to granular levels of 0.5 sq km for both logistics and shipping to help build accurate solutions for the logistics provider,” says Himanshu Goyal, Business Leader, The Weather Company.

Kochi-based design and analytics company Xship is one of those using The Weather Company’s application programming interface (API) to build shipping dashboards for a number of maritime clients.

“Since fuel comprises almost 60 per cent of shipping costs, accurately tracking its usage pattern is important. Weather prediction is an integral part of the process as wind direction, temperature and ocean currents have an impact on route optimisation and, hence, fuel consumption,” says Syam Krishnan, Head of Vessel performance research, XShip. These data points are updated every five minutes together with manual inputs to track the slightest deviation in fuel consumption, adds Krishnan.

Research firm Gartner’s CIO Survey report for 2019 in India indicates that BI and analytics are the second biggest priority in terms of investments by companies across the board. “The shipping industry has been leveraging BI and analytics more than ever before. As the shipping and logistics industry evolves with more sensor-based tracking and the use of other digital platforms, the industry will open up to leverage the power of big data and analytics, cognitive automation and digital technologies to drive better efficiency,” says DD Mishra, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner.

In India, Maersk is running OceanPro, the first of its kind start-up accelerator within the shipping and logistics industry. The company is looking to assist startups by providing them with real-world scenarios, funding, industry expertise and co-development opportunities. In the process, Maersk hopes to leverage their innovations to accelerate its own digital transformation.

Why this is important
  • Over 90 per cent of the world’s trade is carried by sea, the most cost-effective way to move goods
  • Maritime shipping has been around for centuries, industry is only now beginning to leverage technology
  • What they are doing?
  • Shipping firms like Maersk are looking to use blockchain in their operations
  • Startups like Flexport are making waves as they try to digitise shipping
  • Companies like Nautilus Labs offer a technology that leverages AI to measure vessel operation, helping manage fuel efficiency
Source: CB Insights

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