Data-centric engineering and technology have the potential to enhance safety at sea but could also diminish the role of seafarers and lead to a loss of skills, Professor Richard Clegg, managing director of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, told delegates at the Britain and the Sea conference held at the Royal Society of Arts yesterday (Tuesday).
Discussing education, research and development at the conference, organised during LISW by the Maritime Foundation in cooperation with Plymouth University, Prof Clegg highlighted robotics and autonomous systems, advanced materials and nanotechnology, big data, 3D printing and the Internet of Things as transformational technologies in the marine sector.
“I don’t think you really need to be a technologist to imagine that in one way or another nanotechnology, and the ability to assemble materials and devices at atomic scale, to make extremely smart sensors and embedded intelligence could impact on sectors like marine,” he said. “And if there is one thing that will rewrite the landscape today, it is big data analytics.”
3D printing and the ability to print and manufacture components will also lead to big change, he said. “We think of it at the moment as just printing little gaming figures but these are going to be components that will be safety-critical and manufactured at the point of need. It will re-write the way manufacturing is done.”
The prediction is that additive manufacturing could reduce the global container shipping market by 39%, he said.
Prof Clegg then turned his attention to the Internet of Things and the impact of data-centric engineering. “This will take man out of the loop, saving human exposure to hazards and risks, providing early warnings and prediction of failure, feedback into design and enhanced system resilience.”
However he also highlighted the connection between new technology and crew skills. “As a foundation, we are interested in enhancing safety of life and in education and training. New technology can, ironically, diminish the role of the seafarer. That includes over-confidence and over-reliance on, and lack of understanding, of the technology. Higher operator skills are needed but the operator roles become more mundane. Traditional hands-on experience is lost as the operator roles focus more on monitoring.”
The risk, he said, could be a ‘blind faith in technology’. Therefore investment in technology was not just about engineering but also about the human interface, if we are not to lose touch with seafarers’ practical skills.”