Maritime IoT for remote expert intervention: an interview with KVH

by 4, Dec, 2020Innovation0 comments

KVH Watch is a subscription-based service that provides maritime equipment manufacturers, service providers and shipyards with access to real-time and secure data 24/7/365

Recent rapid growth in maritime IoT is widening opportunities for shipping companies to identify and mitigate vessel performance issues before they arise. We spoke with Sven-Eric Brooks, senior director of business development for KVH Watch to find out how satellite-enabled remote intervention is playing a critical role in maintaining efficient and safe vessel operation.

Sven-Eric Brooks, senior director of business development for KVH Watch

Maritime digitalisation has facilitated greater precision and detail when it comes to monitoring the performance of ships and their equipment. However, one element that still significantly affects a company’s bottom line is unforeseen maintenance issues and associated vessel downtime. Remote monitoring can help to mitigate potential issues, but according to Sven-Eric Brooks of KVH, this is just the first step. “A vessel has many mechanical components and you have to be able to intervene to fix a problem,” he explained to Digital Ship in a recent interview. “This means that you cannot wait until the vessel is in port to fix any problems it has. The port visit should be all about making sure the cargo gets on and off the vessel, not about troubleshooting or running at risk of being detained due to faulty equipment.”

One of the biggest challenges equipment service manufacturers face is getting a service expert onto a vessel to fix a problem it encounters while sailing in the remote deep sea. “Equipment manufacturers want to provide a holistic service and they want their customers to have the same user experience wherever they are in the world,” said Mr Brookes. This can be a challenge if a piece of equipment needs immediate attention and the required expert is thousands of miles away.

According to Mr Brooks, the traditional service experience method is costly and time inefficient. “You have the troubleshooting phase, the labour cost, the travel time, you have setting to work time, clean-up time, then the unknowns like mileage, waiting hours, surcharges, overtime or environment surcharges, administration fees for getting people flown out, the permissions required for people to enter port or the vessel, and the general risks you’re exposed to during travel and live service work. This amounts to more than monetary value but to an awful lot of working hours and general risk. A minor three-hour activity can turn into a day rate,” Mr Brookes explained.

Remote expert intervention

To combat the costly and time-consuming procedures associated with traditional monitoring and equipment servicing, KVH brought its KVH Watch IoT Connectivity as a Service solution to the market 18 months ago.  The subscription-based service provides maritime equipment manufacturers, service providers and shipyards with access to real-time and secure data about their equipment 24/7/365. One particular stand-out feature of the Watch solution is its Remote Expert Intervention service, which connects experts, regardless of location, via a high-quality satellite-enabled video service. The collaboration of experts this way enables problems to be troubleshooted, potential replacement parts to be identified, and equipment malfunctions to be fixed, before a critical path is reached. Experts from the crew to the technical ship management team to the staff onshore and the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are brought together via a video stream to discuss and analyse issues, speeding up the overall maintenance or repair process. “By eliminating travel time and logistical challenges, the chain of failure is minimised,” Mr Brookes told us. “Remote intervention gives the opportunity to potentially fix an issue on a vessel across the other side of the world. Some elements onboard the vessel will be able to be fixed 100 per cent remotely, and some will require a follow up in port, but it will greatly improve the efficiency as the issues will have already been identified prior to port arrival.”

For some, the increase in digital solutions and remote services has provoked concern that demand on the human role will be lessened. But in Mr Brookes’ opinion, “this is just not the case.” He sees remote intervention facilitating closer collaboration across ocean borders and empowering crew to solve a problem. “For the crew, the vessel is their home for the time being. Allowing them to do the initial troubleshooting and even some of the repairs themselves is a really empowering experience and at the same time it also saves operational costs.”

High-performance connectivity

KVH Watch includes Flow, the connectivity mode that enables equipment manufacturers to connect to their equipment. Another function, Flow Intervention, allows equipment manufacturers to connect their edge devices or sensors to the network, transferring data to the cloud-service or shore-based server with speeds up to 10/3 Mbps for bulk file transfers. There is a dedicated channel for each manufacturer, ensuring data is kept in one place and not shared with anyone else.

Mr Brookes confirmed that up to 30 systems can be monitored at one time. The main domains selected by stakeholders for monitoring include the bridge and navigation domain, the automation domain, the power and propulsion segment, and the environmental segment, which includes equipment such as scrubbers and ballast water treatment systems.

According to Mr Brookes, scalability of KVH Watch was an essential part of developing the solution to ensure it would keep up with the pace of IoT development. “We should keep in mind that vessels sail for 20-30 years so if you put a sensor onboard a vessel that can be connected, your data consumption today can be low compared to the future as IoT expands. We’ve seen how quickly data generation expands and data requirements increase over time.”

KVH Watch can be installed with a monthly subscription, free maintenance, and no CAPEX. It is set up as part of KVH’s Agile Plans so the whole system is multi-tenancy, meaning that there is a whole raft of equipment manufacturers offering remote services and remote connectivity who require their own dedicated access to the system and who will subscribe to the system.

KVH Watch is downloaded to any device via an application. This device can be accessed through an office PC at the other end.

Separating IT and OT for system security

To ensure complete cybersecurity, KVH Watch offers a dedicated timeshare service that allows multiple equipment manufacturers to use a single antenna for IoT purposes. “KVH Watch splits the IT systems from the OT systems and runs the OT on a dedicated terminal, enabling the shipowner to run a dedicated supplier’s LAN,” Mr Brookes confirmed.

“The classic thing to do today is to have single VSAT dome onboard a vessel that caters for everything, including crew welfare, administration, remote maintenance and diagnostic tasks, but it takes a lot of network management and firewalling to ensure it is a safe system. With the rise of IoT and machine-to-machine connectivity, there are more and more demands put onto the OT and IoT network.

“Separating the OT and IoT systems and isolating KVH Watch from other networks also facilitates better quality and smooth remote intervention as the bandwidth doesn’t have to contest with anything else this way. We can guarantee a high-quality video, which you need to fix things in the field like screw heads and so on.”

Mr Brookes went on to say that the system is secure and transparent, ensuring that an intervention cannot be called without all parties being aware. Calls are also logged and archived for transparency or warranty claims.

From crew welfare to remote service management

In today’s increasingly digitalised industry, IT departments are having more say in the way a solution works and how it is rolled out onboard, Mr Brookes clarified. “The interplay between the IT department and operational departments has been so important for digital solutions, giving them more traction in the industry. We have to start looking at IoT solutions more holistically and realise that they are not built for a specific piece of equipment or use, they are infrastructure.

“These infrastructures service many different use cases, such as telemedicine, data mining, augmenting the navigator’s workspace, to adding performance enhancing tools to the operational suit of the vessel. By merging IT and operations, you now have a team that is jointly pulling in the same direction, making things like a remote survey a reality.

For KVH, the natural step from crew welfare to meet these new connectivity requirements in the IoT sector led to the development of KVH Watch. “We’ve been very much focussed on crew welfare, but we wanted to take a step back and look at what connectivity requirements for tomorrow are required,” Mr Brookes confirmed.

“There are many studies in the industry about data being generated onboard vessels and we’ve seen a large emergence of digital platforms like Veracity and Kognifai, so we thought it was about time that a specific IoT service was launched for the industry. Since we’re a company that covers whole solutions end to end, we were able to deliver this unique service to the industry in the most affordable fashion.

“With the added pressure of Covid-19, manufacturers have realised that providing the equipment and a 24/7 hotline is not good enough in today’s world,” Mr Brookes explained. “Not being able to board vessels during this pandemic has triggered a huge interest in zero touch service management or service activities that can be carried out remotely. Servicing vessels without going onboard is a gamechanger for companies.”

Setting new standards

“It is it really important for us going forwards that KVH is an attractive path for owners, equipment manufacturers, and service providers to enter into the IoT era,” Mr Brookes confirmed when asked about his plans for the development of the KVH Watch platform. “Once we have a customer base within KVH there are options to expand the service portfolio to make sure data is shared between multiple parties. We can already see this happening on the performance optimisation side. The downfall to a lot of service providers is that they always have to provide specific hardware onboard and they all have to tap into specific sensors onboard. So, we do have plans to provide our partners with access to sensor information with access to further data services so they can optimise their own analysis of the data and the way they manage their products in the field.”

“Most importantly, I see remote intervention and remote video intervention becoming the new standard in the industry. They have become the new standard in the work environment and work that is carried out between a technical ship management company and a vessel is no different. There are many ways you can optimise those services as well, such as through augmented reality, wearables, and add-in features in close collaboration with equipment manufactures.”

Mr Brookes confirmed that more partnerships will be disclosed before the end of the month, with agreements with large brands coming from the performance optimisation side.

This article was originally published by VPO Global’s Digital Ship in the November magazine. Click here to view the article on page 16.


December 2020