Hot Topic - Autonomous Shipping with Simon Cuthbert

12 July 2018

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Terry Mallin: Welcome to this weeks manufacturing ignition podcast. Thanks for tuning in, and I hope you enjoy this weeks show. I'm delighted to be joined by Simon Cuthbert, who is the Senior Vice President for the supply chain for Rolls Royce Marine.
Terry Mallin: Simon has an executive responsibility for the procurement, planning and control for a variety of products sold into the global commercial marine market. It's hardware such as winches, rudders, electrical systems, bridge consoles and steering gear. 
Terry Mallin: The reason why I'm really excited to have Simon on the show this week is, in addition to the somewhat traditional products that we tend to see, he also provides a supply chain leadership for the Rolls Royce ship intelligence program, which is changing the marine industry and that's, with it's fault leadership on intelligent asset management and remote and autonomous vessels which is exciting because I know, in previous podcasts, we've talked about autonomous vehicles and now we're going to talk about autonomous shipping and autonomous vessels and these are ground breaking products, you know.
Terry Mallin: Simon, I'm delighted to have you on the show today.
Simon Cuthbert: Thank you. Thanks for the invitation. Please to be here
Terry Mallin: Great and to introduce this week's hot topic, as I briefly mentioned there, it's autonomous shipping defining the future. Simon, could you give us a wee introduction into autonomous shipping and what Rolls Royce are doing?
Simon Cuthbert: Sure Terry. I'm going to take us back a bit and start way back in the 1800's actually. We started with steam engines, if we just think of where we've been. So, in the commercial shipping industry, Victorian era steam engines, we move into the 1940's, 50's, into mass production of vessels and then into the super containerization into the 50's, 60's and 70's that we see on the ocean today and of course multiple other vessels like cruise liners, etc.
Simon Cuthbert: Where we are right not is what we're calling a kind of 4.0 digitalisation of the marine fleet and that's going to take us, we started thinking about this, a couple of years ago and really are setting the pace in what does the future of shipping look like going forward.
Simon Cuthbert: Really we think about how we have remote and autonomous vessels. What does that mean? Who's the customer? What are the benefits for that? How are we going to improve the efficiency of a vessel when you consider that it's operating costs are dominated by fuel and capex? What can we do around those things? How do we improve cargo handling? Generate some very significant improvements in cost reduction to the fleet operator. As much as 20, 30 percent, can be taken out of his fuel costs using some of these technologies.
Simon Cuthbert: What drives us to do this and safety has to sit pretty much at the top as it does with much of the innovation that takes place in products and manufacturing. Human errors are estimated to cause upwards of 80% of all marine accidents, so you may begin to wonder, well what if you didn't have such a likelihood of human error by removing some of those decisions, particularly in very difficult and stressful situations, and you could rely on the technology to make those calls or at least provide the suggestion of what to do next.
Simon Cuthbert: I've touched on cost. How do we make vessels lean? How do we reduce the risk of, not only accidents, but how do we reduce the risk of cargo handling across the entire supply chain from port of loading to port of discharge? How do we know where that vessel is constantly? How do we protect the integrity of the cargo that it's carrying?
Simon Cuthbert: Finally, into sustainability. How do we get to that point where these are sustainable journeys that the vessels are making to attract, particularly in the leisure industry, or passenger fleet, how do we attract that that customer that's conscious about the environment and wants a sustainable method of moving from A to B, be it a ferry or a cruise or some other vessel journeys.

Terry Mallin: Good. So Simon, could this be any size of vessel?

Simon Cuthbert: It can be any size of vessel. We're particularly interested in what I guess most people might think of the larger vessels. So, platform support vessels. I mentioned ferries, containers but tugs is an area where we are particularly breaking new ground and only a couple of years ago we demonstrated the world's first remotely operated tug in operation, and we did that in the harbor at Copenhagen with a couple of partners of ours.
Simon Cuthbert: That really was a ground breaking achievement to ... we have operators sat in remote operating centers on land in Copenhagen and they are controlling that vessel on a short demonstration journey in the harbor and safely guiding it back to the quayside.
Simon Cuthbert: Now, that may be something you can do on the pleasure pond with your little craft, it's quite a different technical challenge to take a working tug into the sea and return back to harbor safely.
Terry Mallin: Yeah 100%. I mean, I remember my time in the Navy, Simon, and the importance of the safety with the tugs as well. When we were coming into land or leaving,
Terry Mallin: One of the things that has popped into my head, just as we were discussing there the basis of, we're touching on the safety side of things and what I was thinking of more, would there be any staff on board an autonomous ... I'm guessing there's got to be some, you know, engineering, etc. What would it save in personnel?
Simon Cuthbert: I think there's a spectrum of people on board to answer that question. I mean, will we see a vessel that's truly operating with nobody on board? You know, I don't know. I think it's entirely possible. We can already talk about reducing the manning on a vessel, that's something that we can talk about right now. We can have a situation where one onshore pilot is perhaps commanding or providing guidance to multiple vessels, so that you start to see some reductions there and when we talk about particularly ultra large container vessels, if you're able to do something that reduces the manning on the vessel, it's not just the saving in the manning, but you've got to remember that these vessels are paid for the people who put the containers on there. The more containers you can put on a vessel, the more efficient that journey is. The more cost competitive it is, and the better for the environment it is. You've got more containers on the same vessel.
Simon Cuthbert: If you're taking people off the vessel, you're reducing the hotel infrastructure that you need and that creates that space. So, there's a range of answers to the question. It's somewhere in the middle between where we are today and where we are in the future.
Simon Cuthbert: Perhaps a very simple answer to that, or an illustration is, Rolls Royce already sell a product that's an auto crossing system for ferries. For simple A to B journeys. So the Captain, once he leaves the harbor or the dock, he's got his passengers. He leaves a certain boundary distance, presses the button, the ferry will take itself across to the next checkpoint where the Captain resumes control to park the vessel.
Simon Cuthbert: So, that's an interim, let's say an interim stage of getting to a full autonomous vessel journey. Once that vessel is sailing between A and B automatically, of course he can do other things. He could go and make coffee. He can go and collect tickets. He can do those things. So, you're already seeing some possible savings in not having such a large crew on board a fairly simple passenger ferry system like that, and those exist now, we're selling those systems into the Nordic ferry market.
Terry Mallin: That was going to bring me onto my next question is, where are we at in the process? How long could it possibly be before there might be a ... I know you mentioned that there may or may not be an autonomous vessel that doesn't need a crew, etc, can be controlled from shore. What do you see as a sort of forecast and timescales for that?
Simon Cuthbert: We talk about the number of autonomy levels from zero up to four. So, right now, we're at, let's say, zero level where we've got some intelligent awareness around the vessel. We're capable of equipping a vessel with a number of sensors and cameras so it can understand not only where it is in time and space but where is everything else that's around it and start to put some predictive technology into what may or may not happen with those other objects that are around and its particular journey.
Simon Cuthbert: We're doing that right now, and we'll continue to develop that kind of baseline technology. As we go to level one and level one which is partial automation, we might call it a periodically unmanned bridge, as I was describing a few minutes ago and I think they're 2019, 2020 and onwards. I think that's the kind of timescale we're looking at. So, into next year probably for that.
Simon Cuthbert: Then we get to level two where we're really moving into let's say remotely controlled vessels that are controlled from land with remote operation centers and again, 2020 and beyond. Short trips, we're getting into 23 and really, if we talk about ocean going remote and autonomous vessels, we're probably at the kind of 2025 mark and onwards.
Simon Cuthbert: So, that's the vision we have there. The timelines that we think about but one of the really exciting aspects is that when we started talking about this we were really the first in the industry to talk about this. Only three or four years ago, these horizons were much longer than that. We've seen other players come in. We've seen the technology develop much faster than we anticipated. So I can sit here today and talk about 2025. Ask me again in 18 months and I might be talking about 2022 as the technology exponentially improves.
Terry Mallin: Amazing, I mean, that's not even that long away. You know, that sounds to be like ground breaking technology and I know Rolls Royce is spearheading this, and with any groundbreaking technology, you know, if you take autonomous vehicles as well with Google. A big challenge that they, you know, and Tesla, or whatever, one of the main challenges that comes up often, Simon, is the need to attract the right caliber of people to drive a project as such, and also the right supply chain partners when it comes to ... is that a challenge that you see?
Simon Cuthbert: You're exactly right, Terry, it's probably the largest challenge that we face in this project, is not only finding partners with capable hardware for us to talk about things like sensors and intelligent awareness kits that we sell now to vessels but what I rather simplistically say is the brain power that sits behind developing the algorithms, the thinking, the planning of these technology changes. We do it through a number of routes and to that end 2017 was a particularly busy year for us in this area. We formed partnerships with Inmarsat on satellite communication. We signed a letter of intent with Google themselves to work with their machine learning algorithms, and we also formed a partnership with The European Space Agency because they have a vast amount of experience in right first time critical, you know, it must work first time, thinking and technology.
Simon Cuthbert: So, we form these really senior relationships with those companies who we believe can help us at the fundamental level and then of course we are trying to attract both suppliers into the supply chain but also individuals who have the skills and knowledge and ability to join the project and help us get to where we want to get to.
Terry Mallin: I've spent a lot of time having a wee look on line before our podcast and did a bit of research, Simon. There's a lot of good content online. So, if you're driving in the car at the minute and you're listening in, when you get home you can type into Google, Rolls Royce Ship Intelligence Program. What I've seen is a couple of good videos as well, on You Tube. So, if you want to find out a wee bit more, pop on there and have a wee look to see what Simon and the guys are doing which is, as I said, it's really groundbreaking. It's fascinating. I can't wait to see how things develop over the coming years.
Terry Mallin: If you are listening and you feel that, as an individual, or your company, could add value to the Rolls Royce Ship Intelligence Program and you want to get in touch with Simon to kind of see where that could progress, please do drop myself an email which is, and I'll put you in touch with Simon directly.
Terry Mallin: As I say, it's the biggest challenge that ... one of the biggest challenges Simon will face is getting the right people on board as well as the right supply chain partners to take this to the next level. So, I'm sure, if you could add value to that, he'd be delighted to hear from you.
Terry Mallin: Simon, is there anything else you want to add at all?
Simon Cuthbert: No, it's just a great opportunity and I get very enthusiastic talking about this subject. It's a rare honor to be involved in a project such as this which is truly changing the way that we consider and think about commercial shipping and will continue to do so for along time.
Terry Mallin: Yeah, and the beauty of this, you know, it's something, it's such a scale in the opportunity as well, getting involved in that. It's something that's going to change the face completely. As the title of the podcast is, it's defining the future of shipping. It's going to be interesting to see how that goes.
Terry Mallin: Simon, I really appreciate you taking the time and I'm sure the listeners appreciate you taking the time as well to give us some insight into the program.
Terry Mallin: Guys, that brings us to the end of this weeks Manufacturing Ignition Podcast. I would like to thank Simon from Rolls Royce for joining us and taking us through this week's hot topic. Thanks for tuning in today. We hope you enjoyed the show and until next week.

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