A Digital Twin Perspective – Ballast Water Exchange #Shipping

“Oh Captain my Captain – This is what you need to do” – A thought piece of what should be done to leverage the value of all data that already exists in the world. Spotlight – Ballast Water Exchange

How can we make the world work for us?

The information in this article is a typical example of how improvements could be made in a specific vertical (Shipping) with a specific use case (Ballast Water Exchange) and some of the most important factors to think about in any industry. It’s an article about the necessity of utilizing modern technological advances with old school knowledge, and how important it is to start somewhere and not “boil the ocean”. It’s less about “the connected ship” and more about understanding the overall context where decisions are made today. By mapping out existing ways of working companies can save a lot of time and effort, trying to boil the ocean with new data. It’s not so much about finding the absolute truth, as it is navigating the seas of unknown and minimizing risk.

The technical solutions discussed are Digital Twin Platforms and Data harmonization tools which have the capabilities to make entities like ships, buildings, trucks, processes, anything tied to a physical space, be made aware of what they need to be aware of. Irrespective of the data source.

The challenges to get there are not in the slightest a lack of technology. But moreover, a lack of understanding where the problems are, what benefits should be derived, and existing people, processes, hierarchy, culture, and an overall low digital maturity of systems that stand in the way.

If not evident on its own, I also do a dive at the end into how this could be interesting for Construction, Smart City planning, Smart Buildings, Connected Mobility, and a Smarter World in general.

Important takeaways from this article for ANY industry.

  1. Understanding what the intended outcome should look like and what is needed to get there, that is also in alignment with a North Star Strategy. The benefits realization approach described here could be an important tool in understanding what needs to be done. The benefits or the intended outcome, in this case, would be to find out optimal conditions for ballast water exchange based on a daunting amount of different parameters.
  2. The importance of understanding the as-is situation, limitations, where data is today, what they look like, and getting a perspective on the problem at hand. NOT talking about technology. Companies need to realize it’s the data and information that companies don’t have that will change their life. If this is understood, and recognized, the natural next step for organizations results in a willingness to understand more about the data they do have. And what steps to be taken to acquire the data they need, in order to reach the intended outcome.
  3. Don’t boil the ocean from the beginning. It’s only when 1 and 2 are defined that we should start thinking about bridging the gap with modern technology. When the future state and as-is state are defined and mapped out, it is now time to invite experts to discuss what the best way would be to solve the problem. Start somewhere, keep adding information to the defined challenge, realizing it’s all data that is needed.

However, the “silo-challenges” usually start here where there’s usually silo-driven consultancy in one area, neglecting the fact that organizations as well as problems seldom existing in only one silo. The article will try to illustrate the necessity of a common base to stand on for both people and systems. Because if companies can pinpoint what the intended benefits are and what the intended outcome is, combined with an understanding of how they are working today. EVERYTHING will (if you know what you are talking about) be extremely easy to do, in an interoperable, scalable, tamper-proof, and future-proof way. It’s important to have a True North star strategy that is aligned with said initiatives where the final outcome of this specific slice of reality should be to realize the full potential of ships (with the subslice of Ballast Water Exchange Management).

And the start of this world-building exercise could be to map out how Ballast Water Exchange Management is performed in order to solve a specific problem, with technology that can scale and span boundaries between both people and systems.

A BIG thank you to Bikram Singh who wrote this informative article about Ballast Water Exchange which I am using as a backbone for this article. And to Mattias Larsson from the Maritime Checklist company Maranics, for providing valuable advice and insights to this article.

Understanding existing organizational/cultural challenges in traditional industries.

Read my…text. It’s not the talk of technology that will solve anything. It’s the correct usage of technology that will solve everything. Traditional industries need to utilize modern technology based on where they are today in solving the problems they have. Modern approaches are all about leveraging existing knowledge as well as existing technology instead of a RIP and replace approach. It’s a step by step process. However, traditional industries do need to change their mindset more than anything, or else they risk being disrupted by the ones who’s got the organizational agility, the strategy and the vision to use modern technology and keep up with the times. Because the times, they are a changin.

Some of the classic pitfalls in traditional industries include:
  • Not viewing technology as an enabler and instead keep on working the way it has always been done. Opposite of change before you have to and more “let’s go down with the ship”. The blame should not only be put on the existing players in traditional industries, but also on suppliers, failing to resonate with the buyers.
  • Challenges in building a business case from the supplier side, as well as the buyer side of things, and if POCs (Proof of Concepts) survive, they are usually killed by middle management. All sides have difficulties in answer, how long time it should take, what is the value for whom, and an overall lack of a benefits-driven approach.
  • Data in all shapes or forms are usually hard to get to. It could be because of vendor lock-in, proprietary systems from start to finish, pen and paper, fiefdoms, bureaucracy overload, and just an overall low organizational and industry digital maturity.
  • Cybersecurity is always a risk, let’s forbid the use of connectivity instead of understanding what attack surfaces that exist, and how to mitigate/eliminate possible attacks.
  • Communication challenges between people of different disciplines, as well as systems of different areas. The building automation industry has this problem with the so-called “skill-shortage gap”. People work in silos, communicate in silos and the only one who’s got a clue about the holistic perspective (In just one silo) are about to retire. Combine this with the fact that organizations themselves are working in silos and we’ll get a glimpse of the URGENCY to enable both systems and people to communicate around a common base to stand on.
  • Domain-specific tools and technologies that barely solve problems within their own discipline. This is usually coupled with a pen & paper approach, knowledge queens and kings, excel sheets, BI-dashboards which require said domain-specific knowledge to interpret.

Traditional industries are broken. How do we fix it?

Why not start with a look at the Shipping Industry & Ballast water exchange?

Shipping & Ballast water exchange

I stumbled upon this topic when reading up about shipping, and the environmental impacts of shipping. I was doing the investigation for Post-COVID compliance use cases regarding quarantining onboard cruise-vessels. And that got me intrigued so I started reading about Ballast water discharge, what it does to the environment and what existing challenges and solutions are.

Ballast water discharge and the environment

Ballast water discharges by ships can have a negative impact on the marine environment.[1]

Cruise ships, large tankers, and bulk cargo carriers use a huge amount of ballast water, which is often taken on in the coastal waters in one region after ships discharge wastewater or unload cargo, and discharged at the next port of call, wherever more cargo is loaded.

Ballast water discharge typically contains a variety of biological materials, including plantsanimalsviruses, and bacteria. These materials often include non-native, nuisance, invasive, exotic species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems along with serious human health problems (Wikipedia).”

This threat is so large it is viewed as one of the top threats to the world’s oceans.

Analogy time

An interesting topic. And releasing water where it shouldn’t seem to be the same reason why people shouldn’t throw banana peels in the forest. They don’t belong there. The animals are not used to eating banana peels. It might take years for banana peels to decompose. And if you throw them out of the window, it might signal that there’s plenty of food next to roads, which could lead to more deaths because large animals gather by the roads. And as the quote says above, it’s such a large threat for the world’s oceans (Great information supplied by a vendor of combating these solutions).

Here are a couple of ways it’s being solved in a practical way

My mind raced to solve this problem but I stopped myself in my tracks and a quick Google resulted in these different ways to solve the Ballast Water Exchange challenges:

  1. Filtration Systems (physical)
  2. Chemical Disinfection ( oxidizing and non-oxidizing biocides)
  3. Ultra-violet treatment.
  4. Deoxygenation treatment.
  5. Heat (thermal treatment)
  6. Acoustic (cavitation treatment)
  7. Electric pulse/pulse plasma systems

All good. So there are specific solutions that can kill everything in the water, thus enabling ships to dump the water “anywhere”. And in some locations “lifeless water” can be collected where there are depths of 2500 meters. My “brilliant” idea would have been to just take data from the existing ships, finding out when they pick up water, cross-reference the coordinates with a map, store that in a blockchain somewhere, and then just make sure ships just drop it back in where they found it? Great right? But when thinking about it and reading about how this is solved today I realized quickly that it won’t work, it’s not nearly as practical as I had first thought. And possibly also outright stupid. So, what could be a better approach?

…Maybe looking into how it’s being done today?

Practical rules and limitations today

This blog from Marine Insight provides even more information about the lay of the… lake and what obstacles exist today. The blog is used as a backbone for the remainder of this thought-piece.

“Ballast water exchange cannot be carried out anywhere at sea. There are certain requirements that must be complied with to perform a ballast water exchange at sea.

  1. Conduct ballast water exchange at least 200 nautical miles from the nearest land and in the water of at least 200 meters in depth.
  2. When a ship cannot meet the above criteria due to reasons such as short voyage duration or enclosed waters, the exchange is to be conducted as far from the nearest land as possible, but at least 50 nautical miles from the nearest land and in a water depth of at least 200 meters”.

My thoughts race towards the ability to follow-up on this on a global scale and making sure actions are being recorded in a non-tamper proof way. I’m thinking that this is done in a manual way right now, with very little insight into how it’s actually being done. The article continues to state some interesting information about the BWM Convention…

“…The Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention is applicable to new and existing ships that are designed to carry ballast water and are of 400 gross tonnages and above.

The BWM Convention entered into force on 8th September 2017. In order to show compliance with the requirements of the Convention, each ship shall have on board a valid Certificate, a Ballast Water Management Plan, and a Ballast Water Record Book”.

The article continues to describe the problem from an in-depth level and what is needed to do and why it’s needed. There are a lot of parameters to think about and this whole process of using pen and paper is something that could and also should be automated. It seems to me that there are far too many parameters for one person to make any informed decisions on a complete scale. Similar to that of the ways of working with building automation, construction, and any traditional industry.

Environmental Conditions to think about

The article in the Marineinsights blog really depicts everything I never knew that I wanted to know about Ballast Water Exchange. It’s an amazing read. The article also explains that these key points need to be taken into consideration when executing a ballast water exchange.

  1. The vessel’s position including traffic density.
  2. Weather forecasts and sea conditions.
  3. Vessel’s stability and loading conditions.
  4. Condition and performance of the vessel’s machinery and maneuverability.

All of the four bullet points above should be quite easy to pick up from APIs in different places. The first question to answers should be to find out where the data is today and in what format. But what about the regional factors and additional factors?

Other Environmental factors to adhere to are:
  1. Areas identified by the port state in connection with warnings provided by ports concerning ballast uptake and any other port contingency arrangements in the event of emergency situations (Need to find existing data source)
  2. in darkness when organisms may rise up in the water column (At what time)
  3. in very shallow water (maps+ location)
  4. where propellers may stir up sediment (combine ship information with map+location+time+possible sensors)
  5. areas with current large phytoplankton blooms (algal blooms such as red tides) (combine onboard data, on the edge camera infrastructure with ML/AI algorithms trained to detect specific patterns, with global data, news sources, that are being triggered by location and time)
  6. nearby sewage outfalls (where is the data today?)
  7. where a tidal stream is known to be more turbid (Need to find existing data sources)
  8. where tidal flushing is known to be poor (Need to find existing data sources)
  9. in areas close to aquaculture (Need to find existing data sources)
  10. where dredging is or recently has been carried out. (Need to find existing data source)
  11. In areas with naturally high levels of suspended sediments, e.g. river mouths, and delta areas, or in locations that have been affected significantly by soil erosion from inland drainage. (Need to find existing data source)

Getting this on Record

All of the information on how the ship is behaving at all times, where the ship is at, and what local/regional/global regulations are in play should be mapped out. And it’s evident that this could be done, and the importance of finding out where the data is today. Some of the data could be/should be visible in a GIS-database most likely. And as we can see, it’s usually not just ONE data source where information comes from but several, from different contexts, disciplines, which might not make it easy to compare. But if there is an intent, and intended outcome to be solved, it shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s all about finding the answers to a question and understanding what factors impact the likelihood of said answers to be accurate.

And it’s equally important that the governing body has a future-proof way of monitoring said approaches in a scalable way. But first, how are the Ballast Water Exchange procedures recorded today?

Manual ways of working

“…Each procedure concerning ballast water exchange is to be fully recorded without delay in the ballast water record book (An integral part of the ballast water management plan). These records are considered to be critical to the success of the ballast water management plan and dole out to provide documentation that the ballast water exchange has been properly conducted and the exchange has been completed.

Also included should be a list that identifies a representative listing of those items that may be considered for inclusion as a section of the Ballast Water Management Plan, as follows:

  • The location (Lat/Long) where ballast water exchange is to occur is to be identified. (Map overlay)
  • A detailed position and description of the watertight and weathertight closures (e.g., manholes, the opening of vents and air pipes) which may have been opened during ballast exchange that must be re-secured. (IoT magnetic sensors, sending time-stamped data from ship to shore, to be automatically uploaded to the cloud for secure storage/and/or/grabbing existing data from the systems which monitor this today).
  • Descriptions of the procedures required to conduct ballast water exchange and the estimated volume of ballast water which includes the following:
    1. When ballast water is taken onboard
    2. Whenever ballast water is circulated or treated for ballast water management purposes
    3. When ballast water is discharged into the sea
    4. When ballast water is discharged to a reception facility
    5. Accidental or other exceptional uptake or discharge of ballast water
    6. Additional operational procedures and general remarks.

The ability to get these things on record in a tamper-proof scalable way reminds me of the discussions of police-body cameras. There are continuous discussions that the body cameras need to automatically send their data to “the cloud” for governing bodies to get access at all times. Could it be the same approach here? In that the data can’t be tampered with easily and that the data is stored in a ledger?

With stream processing technology like Kafka, it could also be stored on the edge, and possibly to be coordinated with the VDR (Voyage Data Recorder) on the ship. However as this article states, data might be overwritten every 12 hours and the Captain also has a button that will create a new entry to overwrite existing data. However, this article states that “regulations also state a minimum of 30 days of recorded data must be held internally”. This could be better of course. But it’s still at the ship and not being stored somewhere else in a tamper-proof way.

What conclusions can we draw from this?

Final thoughts and how to solve it

In this case, the question that the ship should be asking the data fabric:

“Hello Ship – “Where is the optimal place for ballast exchange on this journey”

The ship then asks the “data”, which could be a global database with all the information about the ship, the location, the weather, regional regulations, GIS-databases, news-sources, etc etc, and gets an answer back to the Environmental person onboard who tells the Captain when to plan for this.

And then it gets written down in a ledger going back to manual ways of working…?

Or, in the future, the system will tell the ship about this and the ship will already have factored it into the course. Automated shipping, on a global scale. And all of these events are being stored in a “Ballast Blockchain” with some added benefits of a digital approach for regulatory purposes, sustainability and transparency reasons.

Benefits of a Digital approach to Ballast Management

  • A digital approach to ballast water exchange management would seek to combat improperly filled-out or missing entries of all ballast water movements. And also be an automated BWM record book, that collects data from necessary data sources automatically.
  • Making sure ballast water exchange procedures are correct, knowing that water was actually exchanged and that the amount of water was sufficient.
  • Coordinating real-time data for the BWM-plan to make sure it has been approved, up to date, correct, and existing. Also adhering to re-approval of the BWM plan after the change of flag.
  • Contribute to the familiarization and training of the crew, increasing the impact of handling ballast water in accordance with the BWMC.
  • Invite to innovate concept where interested parties can dig into the data fabric and do assessments, fault detect, innovate as well as solve problems and measure sustainability metrics because of an added transparency through the value chain.

Making decisions based on ALL of the data

The importance of making decisions based on ALL of the data has to be understood. Because even if all the “static” global data is saying one thing, there might be something wrong with the ship itself. This means that it won’t reach the intended location because of an internal engine problem. Maybe someone onboard the ship might need emergency care, which affects the ship’s journey, or any other of 10 000’s things that could affect anything. Which is why everything needs to be connected at all times, in order to realize the full potential of just this subset. Because it’s not the Ballast Water Management topic in itself that is the most interesting factor. It’s how it interacts with the world around it, and specifically how the world interacts and affects the Ballast Water Management Plan.

And the interesting thing is, that once this data fabric is up, it’s just the questions that need asking because the answers are already here, and it could be re-used for other purposes as well.

It is similar to the idea of parametric design and about achieving the intended outcome, based on an idea of what should be achieved. By creating a data fabric of the knowns, and unknowns everything becomes comparable and relatable into a data fabric where everything is on the same level, and everything affects each other. It sounds like it’s the realization of the french philosopher Bruno Latour and the ANT-theory, and it actually might be. He stated that technology and people are all part of a network where they affect each other. The importance of creating a holistic fabric that everyone can understand, independent of discipline, human or machine cannot be understated. The possibilities of inviting experts to look at a specific problem, from their own angle, populating the digital twin, whilst still being able to show what is going on to others in adjacent or not as adjacent fields is extremely important.

Why a more modern approach should matter

People need to be able to communicate with something that takes in data from everywhere and still doesn’t lose its shape. The 3D-visualization of an entity like a ship, a building, a city, a construction site, a turbine, anything that exists in the physical world provides the context necessary for both people and systems to create a real-time connected digital twin world based on a specific slice of reality and to grow the value in a scalable, inclusive, collaborative way.

The world as we know it is still very much Plato’s Cave. We see all of these things happening but we don’t understand the context. We can’t form a cohesive shape to form our understanding because we have all different backgrounds and views of the future and the only thing we can do is to have opinions. The Digital Twin creates certainty out of uncertainty, allowing and enabling people to see the same things. To understand and demystify complexity between disciplines and industries and follow a red-thread through space and time. The room for philosophical reasoning will still be there, but it will all be around a Digital Twin.

“The Uncensored Library is a Minecraft server and map released by Reporters without Borders and created by BlockWorks, DDB Berlin, and MediaMonks as an attempt to circumvent censorship in countries without freedom of the press. The library contains banned reporting from Mexico, Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt”. – Wikipedia

This topic is an article on its own, but it shows that this is already happening. The tools that they are using just needs to be changed, and the world we know (don’t know) will be much easier to understand.

The almost infinite opportunities occur when combining different slices from different industries, macro to micro-sized challenges. Where in the end there will be a global digital twin, built and utilized by both humans and machines that is definitive in its nature. The butterfly effects will take shape before us and we’ll have both the real world and also the digital world. A mirror image of everything that goes on and an end to re-inventing the wheel. And eventually, we’ll most likely make the decision which world we want to live in. A world with borders? Or a world without borders, where anything and everything is possible? It’s a Minecraft world on the way where some Very Innovative People have already started as seen below above.

All different slices will form:

– The Industry Digital Twin.

– The National Digital Twin.

– The Global Digital Twin

What role are you playing today, or want to play in the future? Please leave a comment on what you think and what your challenges are!

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