Schip aan de kade - Rotterdam Maritime Capital of Europe Credit: Guido Pijper

Accelerating digitalisation to reduce CO2 emissions. It's happening in Rotterdam. The Rotterdam-based company Onboard helps to develop the digital infrastructure for the maritime industry, which should speed up the digitalisation process. The founders of the platform, Florus Wilming and Erwin Strik, talk about the positive results they have already achieved in the Rotterdam testing ground and what the future holds for them.

Florus Wilming and Erwin Strik aim to optimise the business processes of maritime organisations. According to them, Onboard is the perfect tool to achieve that goal. The platform connects ships with the cloud and the supply chain of which the ships form a part. Onboard wants multiple parties to make use of the advanced infrastructure and has developed three applications on the platform, each with its own function. The first application provides insight into the fuel consumption of ships. In addition, there is a digital logbook that records the ship’s operations. This data set can be further enriched by the vessel monitoring application, which can receive readouts from machinery, systems and sensors. According to Wilming, Onboard provides greater insight into the ship's operations making it easy to see which activities are running inefficiently. The data can then be analysed and improvements can be implemented. By deploying ships efficiently, a lot of fuel savings can be made. They decided to set up this platform because they could see that digitalisation was slow in the maritime industry. They wanted to make a breakthrough.

Rising energy prices make fuel-saving technology even more relevant. According to Wilming, the major problem hanging over the market is that the cost of energy for the maritime industry is rising. 'When you operate a ship, you spend 50% of the operational costs on fuel. That's why the operational fuel consumption is very important to the customer.’ Wilming expects the cost price of alternative fuels to rise and perhaps become two to three times as expensive. That means that the 50% share may go up to 70-80%, which will make fuel savings even more important.’ Wilming expects the cost price of alternative fuels to rise and perhaps become two to three times as expensive. “That means that the 50% share may go up to 70-80%, which will make fuel savings even more important.”

Wilming believes that the biggest advantage of the platform is that it's easily accessible. Customers can, for example, install the server on board themselves. They can learn how Onboard works in an afternoon. In addition, they don’t have to invest in the platform, because it works with a subscription. Just like a mobile phone contract. This allows customers to pay a portion each month instead of everything at once.’ What is also unique, according to Wilming, is that Onboard will work on every ship, from existing to new.

Strik refers to the first project with the Rotterdam based company Kotug as Onboard's big breakthrough. A terminal wanted to rent ships from Kotug for a long period and as customary the terminal pays a daily rate for the ship as well as for the fuel. This is a large investment and the terminal, therefore, wanted to organise the operation as efficiently as possible.’ This is where Onboard came in. 'It was great to see that our first project already showed results within the first three months.’ The turnaround time for the terminal improved by 22%. After four months, Kotug also saw fuel savings of 16%. At the start of the project, Kotug started with four boats and within a year the company was able to expand the operation to six boats. 'Kotug knew they could optimise their process through the use of Onboard.’ An example of such optimisation is being able to organise a faster docking of the ship. This saves time for the pilot, captains and the entire loading and unloading process.

Onboard recently began a collaboration with Wagenborg. Wagenborg had told its client Shell about Onboard. According to Strik, it is still quite normal in the maritime industry to work with daily reports (in Excel, Word or PDF). Shell had been wondering for some time how they could get away from this way of working. Onboard was the answer to their question. Previously, a fortnight's worth of daily reports would be sent and processed in Shell's system. Now, Shell receives information about how the ships are performing in real time via the Vessel API.

Besides Shell, Acta Marine and Peterson are companies that are also achieving good results with Onboard. Wilming explains that Acta Marine has seen savings of 33% on fuel and Peterson 30%. 'Reducing emissions is the most important challenge for the global maritime industry. With Dutch industry leading the way, we can save costs in the run-up to the transition, better absorb the necessary investments and prepare for changing regulations. By taking a leading role, we can strengthen our competitive position and turn the greatest challenge into the greatest opportunity.’

Rotterdam as a testing ground

Rotterdam is well on its way with the digitalisation of the transport sector and is an excellent breeding ground in this respect. Wilming believes that the port of Rotterdam and its surrounding region stand out internationally in this respect because of the enormous maritime cluster present here. 'From the equipment for the ships that is made here, the shipbuilding industry to high-tech companies and the impressive industry in the port area. Rotterdam has an enormous port with an extensive logistics supply chain connected to it.' According to Wilming, everything can be found in Rotterdam.

The size and complexity of this region make it the ideal place to develop, test and ultimately implement these kinds of digital solutions. ‘It's also the ideal place for global players who want to start digitalising their business. In Rotterdam, a lot is being invested in the digitalisation of transport. The digitalisation of transport is not a goal in itself. Making transport more sustainable and more efficient: that's what it's all about.’

Improvements can only be made by working together

In order to accelerate digitalisation, Wilming would like to have extra fiscal options at his disposal. For example, he would like the government to make it possible for staff to become shareholders without them having to pay tax on those shares. Just as that is possible in other countries. In addition, the government also needs to be setting regulations, adds Wilming. 'They must ensure a level playing field. It is our role as an industry to innovate and raise the level of ambition. But other parties, such as energy suppliers and ship owners, have to work together on this.’

Strik expects the platform to grow rapidly. ‘We want to ensure that as many parties as possible get to work with it: stimulating collaborations and creating value together.’ The duo wants to speed up the digitalisation process even more by working together with all the parties in the maritime industry. Wilming believes that digitalisation, and with it the reduction of CO2 emissions, is an important agenda item for many parties: such as insurers, ship owners, port authorities, charterers, terminals, equipment suppliers and service providers in the port. One of the reasons why Onboard is located in Rotterdam, is because this city is the beating heart of the maritime sector, where all these parties are located so close to each other.