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Welcome to Wärtsilä’s wonderfully weird world of shipping

Welcome to Wärtsilä’s wonderfully weird world of shipping
Factory ships processing your freshly harvested coffee beans enroute to market, artificial islands dotted along the main shipping routes generating green energy for plug-in-play ships, and those sci-fi inspired vessels voyaging in convoy to save fuel and cut emissions.

Welcome to the future of commercial shipping, or at least Wärtsilä’s vision for the future of the shipping industry which it predicts could even see rivals sharing commercially sensitive information. Be careful with that hot brew, there, Mr cfo.

The Finnish conglomerate, which trades in advanced technologies and complete lifecycle solutions for the marine and energy markets, has dusted off its crystal ball at SMM in Hamburg to offer a fascinating insight into the possible future of seaborne trade. LIITOS Working together 600

Its “Visions of Future Shipping” whitepaper presents different scenarios set to shape the way shipping companies operate in response to the inevitable collision between growing energy demand and increasingly stringent environmental legislation.

By assessing emerging trends, Wärtsilä has set out different scenarios it believes “represent both challenges and opportunities” for shipping as operators scan a horizon promising once unimaginable digital connectedness and yet systems autonomy, and ‘affordable’ green energy sources to combat climate change. Here’s a synopsis of the Wärtsilä future.

CONVOY - Savings in numbers
Stevedores everywhere will be sweating on the first Wärtsilä vision which envisages space-age vessels speeding towards a port near you…in convoy.

“By taking advantage of advanced controls and communication between autonomous components, systems, and vessels, shipping fleets could be operated in convoys. The fuel savings created by vessels closely following each other results from the lower entrance speed of water ahead of the aft vessel.” 

In addition to reducing the combined convoys bunker bill, Wärtsilä sees less crew operating the trailing ships due to the rise of system autonomy, artificial intelligence and advanced connectivity.

“Advanced communication technologies will also rapidly increase the sharing of information, which will save time and optimise the allocation of cargo to vessels.”

Floating Distribution Hubs 600ZERO – Floating distribution hubs
The artist’s impression looks a little like something out of 1960s animated US sitcom The Jetsons, albeit this utopian future is a contemporary seaborne version that will become reality sooner than we think, Wärtsilä predict. 

Artificial islands, or floating distribution hubs, will be dotted along the main shipping routes producing emissions free fuels from solar or wind for powering green energy sources if the scenario comes to pass.

“Clean energy production is becoming a global priority and its influence on the shipping industry is expected to be felt more and more within the near future.”

EXERGO – Unlimited Energy Storage
Large investments in battery technology will drive advances in energy storage capacity, Wärtsilä predicts. The Nasdaq Helsinki-listed company believes that battery energy density will increase substantially during the coming years, allowing vessels to operate in sensitive areas silently and with no exhaust emissions.

Z3 - Green energy
Reliable, emission free power without upfront investment. A dream, surely? Not if you believe Wärtsilä who are working on a concept that envisions the supply of energy for propulsion on an 'as you go' basis. Details are few at present but will require “highly reliable energy sources and monitoring from the shore through advanced connectivity.” EXERGO Unlimited Energy Storage 600

By the looks of the Exergo cruise liner and its Z3 pod, maybe it’s time to invest in solar panels?

LIITOS – Rivals working together
Gigantic eco ships working in increasingly large alliances focused on economies of scale is the new norm for container shipping. But Wärtsilä sees ever greater cooperation, driven by digital connectivity…and vessels towing massive interchangeable cargoes by the looks of the supporting renders (see second image from top).

“For efficient cargo sharing, access to the same information by all global operators would ensure, for example, that no container ship sails cargo free. This sharing of assets could be achieved by use of a digital tool.”

BEAN TO CUP – Factory ships
Imagine, if you can, coffee beans being transported to Europe and Asia from South America being processed enroute so that double-shot macchiato is available almost immediately upon the ship's arrival in port. Welcome to Wärtsilä’s “Bean to Cup” inspired manufacturing ships.

Bean to CUP Manufacturing en route 600“Factory ships may one day be manufacturing while transporting materials from one market to another. Apart from saving valuable time, this concept could have substantial economic benefits.” And no doubt a very fresh brew.

Wärtsilä Marine Solutions president Roger Holm is to share more insights at SMM. He says Wärtsilä, which employs nearly 19,000 people in over 200 locations in 70 countries and last year enjoyed net sales totalling €5bn ($5.6bn), has “accepted the challenges created by the developments” already rapidly reshaping shipping.

“Wärtsilä is increasing its speed of re-invention, not just internally but in cooperation with our customers and partners, so that the industry can be assured of having the technologies ready and available to meet the new requirements," he said.

Industry stakeholders more balance sheet than futuristically focused at present will certainly be watching Wärtsilä’s space.