Shipping, 2018 style, at SMM

Digital, digitalisation, big data, AI, blockchain, smart shipping. The list goes on. SMM 2018 was awash with both new and familiar buzzwords, but it was significant that, for…

Digital, digitalisation, big data, AI, blockchain, smart shipping. The list goes on. SMM 2018 was awash with both new and familiar buzzwords, but it was significant that, for the first time, it felt like these were not buzzwords – this was just shipping, 2018 style.

Under the umbrella of digitalisation was the dawn of new business models. Wartsila is not an OEM anymore. They are a smart shipping company. DNVGL are as much, in their words, ‘leading the energy transition’ as they are classifying ships, while the omnipresent Frank Coles, formerly of Transas and latterly Wartsila, commented that ship management companies had a crucial role to play over the coming years in the operation of vessels. All these key stakeholders – OEM’s, class and ship management companies – all vying for control of the digital asset. Clichés abound; the race is on, the gloves are off, and some are already making hay while the sun shines.

All the while, rumours persist of true disruption; Amazon, Alibaba, Google – could they add shipping to their logistics supply chain and in so doing defy hundreds of years of shipping as we know it?

Beyond the digital element, the coming years herald deep change for the shipping sector. Driven by two monumental legislative changes – the IMO’s 2020 sulphur cap and its greenhouse gas reduction strategy – the way we power ships will change fundamentally. Many exhibitors at SMM showed a glimpse of what is to come; while anecdotes of shipowners racing around the vast halls to seal deals for scrubbers provided a timely reminder that not all are well prepared for what is about to come. Indeed, it’s worth considering the rapidity of change over the next decade; by the time SMM 2020 arrives, the long-anticipated introduction of the sulphur cap will already be in shipping’s rear-view mirror.

New buzzwords will undoubtedly appear, such as electrification, clean fuels or power-to-gas technologies, biofuels and hydrogen. Across all these challenges, digitalisation will undoubtedly be a crucial element, and potentially a significant helping hand during the transition.

From a BLUE perspective, a total team of seven attended SMM 2018 across the week; supporting over 15 clients on the ground, including V.Group, Bureau Veritas, Silverstream, LAB, Parker Kittiwake, Hoglund, Castrol and Chelsea Technologies, while reacquainting with old friends and meeting new, innovative organisations. A reminder that, in order to get business done, there is no other forum where so many congregate en masse in the shipping industry.