Volstad embraces digitalisation

Volstad embraces digitalisation Inmarsat FleetBroadband allows Volstad to remain completely connected at any latitude. Photo: Inmarsat

Norwegian fishing company Volstad Shipping AS has selected Inmarsat’s high-speed Fleet Xpress mobile satellite communications service to support the operation of its sophisticated factory vessel fishing in Arctic waters

The Ålesund-based company’s trawler, Volstad, has a broad range of automation on board to streamline catch processing, and to perform to optimal capability, these advanced systems, and the sensors on which they draw, demand reliable ship-to-shore connectivity. Keeping an eye on critical operational parameters and carrying out detailed trend analysis demands that equipment data is as fresh as the catch of the day. If something doesn’t seem right with the current status of shipboard equipment, support engineers need to be alerted so they can work with the crew.

Volstad’s technical manager Jan Rogne believes the seafood industry is becoming more attuned to the potential of Internet of Things (IoT) and related solutions, as a route for increasing productivity.

“The seafood industry is becoming more and more automated and adopting IoT and application solutions, which means many of our suppliers are using sensors and software to monitor equipment, such as winch cranes, in real-time, to avoid costly service repairs and visits,” he said. Harvesting data over longer periods opens up the possibility of fine-tuning practices and can prompt other optimisations.

With such a high level of automation, Volstad needed connectivity that allowed it to increase data usage for operational purposes significantly, in a cost effective way, while providing the crew with high-speed internet access over long voyages to maintain retention rates. The vessel sails with 18-20 crew and is typically at sea for up to six weeks.

Volstad Shipping decided to renew its contract with Inmarsat for 24/7/365 service management, monitoring and support, to match current and anticipated demand. After reviewing the options on the market, it settled upon Fleet Xpress, with 2Mbps download and 0.5Mbps upload rates.

“We were previously using Inmarsat’s Xpress Link but chose to upgrade to Ka-band Fleet Xpress, mainly because we needed a solution that could meet our increasing bandwidth needs, but would be reliable and allow us to predict and control costs,” Jan Rogne said.

Volstad is equipped to a very high standard and features various amenities to provide crew with a comfortable living environment. However, as Jan Rogne points out, crew welfare is about mental well-being as well as physical comfort.

“Fleet Xpress allows us to provide a higher level of crew connectivity and that helps keep the crew happy, allowing them to stay in touch with family and friends, as if they were at home,” he said.

“The additional bandwidth available on Fleet Xpress means this connection to shore is no longer limited to voice calls and short text-only emails, but includes video calls, as well as access to sports and social media,” he explained.

The 75m Volstad operates mostly in the North Sea, the Barents Sea and around Svalbard, from where it focuses on cod, haddock and saithe, destined for the European market. These higher latitudes have historically created challenges for satellite-enabled communications, as coverage is typically focused on busier sea-lanes and more populated regions.

In this case, Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress takes an innovative approach by marrying the Ka-band part of the service with the proven L-band technology that powers its FleetBroadband connectivity in a unique managed service from a single supplier.

“The unlimited integrated back-up of FleetBroadband provides a huge advantage when operating in these regions and allows us to remain completely connected. We have no issues with connectivity even in areas north to the 0° elevation contour in the Barents Sea,” Jan Rogne said, commenting that the performance guarantee was a clincher.

To add further reliability, Volstad Shipping opted for a dual antenna set-up with an Intellian GX100 to handle the Ka-band and a Cobham SAILOR FB500 for the L-band.

Inmarsat believes the importance Volstad attaches to connectivity is emblematic of the digital transformation currently unfolding across the commercial fishing sector, and more widely across maritime. In fact, original research commissioned by the satellite service provider suggests that the maritime industry is more disposed to adopting analytic, management and operational tools applied through the Internet of Things (IoT) than many commentators have supposed.

Fishing vessel operators accounted for almost 5% of the 750 respondents to cross-sectoral research, which sought to investigate the use of IoT-based solutions across maritime, transport and logistics, energy, mining and agriculture. Among the findings collated in the Industrial IoT: Land and Sea report, it is predicted that average expenditure per business on IoT-based solutions will amount to US$2.5 million over the next three years.

The investment is being driven by the need for real-time monitoring and for the condition-based performance applications to be more cost efficient, cleaner and safer than ever before. Regulation is providing one spur; with rules tightening on emissions from ships, 65% of maritime respondents overall say they already use IoT-based solutions to monitor fuel consumption, rising to 100% by 2023.

For the moment, it is fair to say that fishing lags marginally behind commercial shipping when it comes to using or trialling IoT-based solutions as part of everyday operations. However, the disparity may be short-lived: 57% of the 33 fishing organisations polled envisage uptake of IoT-based solutions over the next 24 months.

In some respects, commercial fishing operators such as Volstad Shipping are already ahead of the curve, already required to send regular catch reporting updates to shore-based teams as part of a raft of measures designed to manage quotas and prevent IUU fishing.

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