The role of the shipmanager as a provider of technical services is changing and needs to evolve to keep pace with technological advances and the growing role of manufacturers
One of the major changes in vessel operation and management in the last 20–30 years has been the growing use of communications and the use of communications to allow ever-greater volumes of data and information to be transmitted between ships and shore. But who is benefiting from this process? Is it mainly manufacturers, or do technical managers also have a role in it?
As Anglo-Eastern Group’s group managing director offshore Douglas Lang told the 2018 Annual OSJ Conference, as manufacturers make ever greater use of data gathering on board ship and of the ability to transmit that data ashore, existing vessel management models are no longer sustainable and a new approach is required. The role of the technical manager is changing and will continue to change, he argued. Also, because of these changes, there has been a drift in responsibility from ship to shore and, to some extent, this diminishes the decision-making responsibilities of those on board.
Changes are taking place on board vessels and ashore that the industry will need to respond to, the shipmanagement expert told delegates. As he pointed out, manpower changes mean there are often fewer people on board.
“Ashore, the role of the superintendent is diminishing as the ability to intervene is reduced,” he told delegates. The role of the superintendent is becoming akin to a conduit to a manufacturer rather than a ‘vessel supremo’, he said.
As in many walks of life, a concept of repair by replacement is also being adopted. There is more and more automation, more and more remote monitoring and more and more predictive maintenance, but manufacturers are ‘hijacking’ that process, because they are the ones who have access to the data.
“As a shipmanager, you may be reliant on feedback from a single system on your ships, but a manufacturer has access to hundreds of systems. At that level, predictive maintenance becomes a reality because they are basing it on a useful sample size.
“Without that kind of scale, you can’t do predictive maintenance sufficiently rigorously to enable us to say to our engineers, ‘Substitute my process for what you do now,’ which is breakdown, calendar and running hours,” said Mr Lang.
“Experience has shown us that calendar and running hours have served us very well, and it’s difficult to argue that my inventories would be any less now, because the sample sizes simply aren’t there at the moment to do that,” he said.
“I don’t agree with those who people who argue that we are seeing a diminishing level of competence on board, but I do believe that we are seeing a diminishing level of ability to intervene. That’s quite different, and it’s because more and more systems are black boxes. Over time, this might mean that engineers will lose some of their abilities, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less competent.
“If you scroll forward, as a technical manager, you want to remain involved in the process. One outcome of this process is that the vessel manager loses out and loses a lot of his ability to take decisions. Is that a desirable state of affairs? I don’t think so, although, as a technical manager, I have a vested interest in saying that.
“I don’t actually know if the manufacturers or the class societies have thought that far down the road. They have a toolbox of toys, and they’re just plugging them together now. It’s not quite clear where it’s all going to lead to, and I think that the opportunity for technical managers is to get into that mix and be part of their decision-making process so that we do remain in control and in some respects driving the process, not just allowing them to wash over us – which is what some of them want to do.”