Disruptive technology from other industries is likely to alter shipping business models irrevocably and older, establishment shipowners could be ousted by new, debt-free competitors, panellists at SMM’s Maritime Future conference have warned.
Discussing the business case for unmanned ships, Rolls-Royce Innovation vp Oskar Levander indicated that unmanned ships would leverage cost savings beyond crewing.
“A lot of companies talk about energy optimisation. Why do we just optimise fuel cost? We should look instead to optimise revenue – and not just for shipowners, but for customers,” he said.
Levander went on to say that crewless vessels would not need superstructures, saving weight and cost, while also generating major fuel savings in terms of unnecessary systems such as heating, lighting, sewage treatment and ventilation.
Wärtsila Market Innovation director Willie Wagen predicted that shipping’s present resistance to renewable energy sources would not continue for long.
“Fifty per cent of what universities are spending on R&D is on clean energy,” said Wagen. “This technology is changing rapidly. Solar panels, for example, began at an energy density of 10%. Now, it’s 60%-70% – 80% in a lab. In the future, energy will be available and it will be cheap.”
Potential “disruptors” comprised not only emergent technology but new models for doing business, suggested Wagen. He highlighted moves towards a sharing economy in other, consumer-facing industries where companies have compared performance and pricing data to understand the market more effectively.
If adopted in shipping this would likely unseat many shipbrokers. “All the digital platforms coming on now are sharing information,” he said. “The main asset for all middle men is information. But if everyone has that information, the middle man’s asset is gone.”
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