Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Track Your Fleet's Data from the Office

Big data, cloud-based computing, and machine learning coming to a fishing boat near you!


September 1, 2017

B&N Fisheries owns and manages eight trawlers fishing for pollock and cod in Alaska including the 144-foot trawler Northwest Explorer, seen here headed for Alaska with ioCurrents onboard. Photo courtesy of ioCurrents.

The maritime industry is steeped in tradition. The fishing industry in particular is set in its ways and often slow to adopt new technology. But every so often something comes along to fundamentally change the way we do things.

By the turn of the 20th century, gasoline and diesel were replacing vessels under sail. Wartime advances in the early part of the last century ushered in the widespread use of sonar and other electronic methods for finding fish and accurately determining location. Fishing gear itself got lighter, stronger, and more effective as petroleum based products replaced natural fibers in the second half of the last century. Regulatory changes in the 1970's provided US fishermen with defined access to resources they formerly shared with the rest of the world. Since then science and technology have continued to advance all around us, with the fishing industry often playing "catch-up" to the rest of the world. Enter ioCurrents and the use of cloud-based computing and machine-learning analytics. This technology for vessel monitoring and fleet management could be the next big leap that brings the fishing industry into the modern technological era.

Cosmo King and Bhaskar Bhattacharyya seem an unlikely duo to revolutionize commercial fishing. Coming from the lower Eastern Shore of Virginia and Calcutta, India, respectively, their backgrounds couldn't have been more different. It wasn't maritime that brought them to Seattle, but rather the booming tech industry. After almost three decades of combined experience with tech firms Isilon, Microsoft, EMC, Pogo Linux, and others the two met in 2013 at a tech startup, working on the integration of large amounts of data with geo-spatial information. In other words, all the data stored in the database would have a specific time and location "stamp" to go with it. In 2015 the two founded ioCurrents and began work on what would evolve into the MarineInsight fleet monitoring system.

The system starts with a box. More specifically, a very small computer that fits into a box that can be easily mounted in even the most cramped engine room. This computer connects to the engine, generators, refrigeration, or any other systems that are properly instrumented for data acquisition. For modern, electronically controlled engines this connection can be as simple as plugging into a port. Older assets might require an instrumentation upgrade and sensor installation in order to capture the relevant information. In situations like this the ioCurrents engineering team, working with partner Fusion Marine, can design and install a solution to bring even the oldest engines and generators up to speed.

The MarineInsight fleet management system consists of two main components. The first component is the previously mentioned computer. This on-board monitoring device collects information on fuel usage, engine temperature, oil pressure, and up to 75 additional parameters per asset, depending on the configuration. The on-board system collects data at 1-second intervals and stores the information for up to 6 months on a local hard drive. When in range, the data is automatically uploaded to storage in the cloud via WiFi, cellular, or satellite depending on the vessel's location. The uploaded data is stored securely and indefinitely.

Once in the cloud, MarineInsight uses "machine learning" and advanced analytics to proactively monitor vessel conditions and predict failures before they happen. The system can be configured to send real time alarms via text message or email, on any number of parameters. These alerts can be sent to the wheelhouse, port engineer, vessel owner, vessel manager, or whomever else you designate to receive them. Customers are also able to use a custom log-in to access the cloud website and view location data, engine statistics, and alerts from their own device.

Let's say you manage a fleet of five vessels fishing in the bering sea. Using the MarineInsight fleet monitoring system you could literally be viewing them in real time from your desktop or laptop computer, your iPad, or your smart phone. Imagine that you're concerned about fuel usage on one boat. You're worried about a slow drop in oil pressure on another. You've been having quality concerns related to an unreliable refrigeration system on a third boat. And you're trying to coordinate delivery schedules for the two remaining boats. With the MarineInsight system in place, as the fleet manager you can have unprecedented visibility into each of the boats and make real-time adjustments as necessary. With the first boat you can communicate directly with the skipper to adjust RPM and other parameters to optimize fuel efficiency. You can detect and alert the skipper of the second boat to tiny, almost imperceptible drops in oil pressure and take corrective action days before the issue becomes critical. Working with the engineer on the third boat you can figure out where the "sweet spot" is to run the refrigeration system for maximum effectiveness. And with the last two boats you can consider a number of different factors to better coordinate delivery schedules with your processor. And rather than calling each vessel, pulling the skipper, engineer, and crew away from other vital tasks, you simply need to turn on your device and log in.

Take B&N Fisheries for example. B&N owns and manages eight trawlers fishing for pollock and cod in Alaska. The company has very little control over the size of the quota, the price of fish, and the price of fuel. "So we try and control what we can," says B&N fleet manager Jerry Downing. "When you have a fleet of eight vessels, there are probably 40-plus engines on those boats running that you need to maintain and operate," he says. "So that's a lot to keep track of on a given day."

Prior to installing the MarineInsight fleet monitoring system B&N did it the old fashioned way...with paper, pencils, and a clipboard. Downing explained, "Everything we have is monitored at the vessel level and is basically put down on paper and mailed to the office. So you're relying on that paper trail. You're relying on the individual to fill it out and you're relying on the vendors to do good service reports. There is a lot you're relying on and there are a lot of gaps in information. This system is really good for us because we can monitor in real time what's going on. I truly think that we want to get to in the future is monitoring more and more and more real time via the computer."

The system has already provided B&N with a level of visibility on their vessels that wasn't available before. Within days of installing MarineInsight the system detected problems with an oil temperature sensor. "If it had not been for the erratic sensor action we noticed in the ioCurrents data, there is probably no chance you would have ever noticed that sensor going out until it was complete failure. Had the sensor finally gone into complete failure the engine could have shut down. At that point we would have lost power. Then there is a Coast Guard notification. So just diagnosing upfront with ioCurrents already saved the vessel a lot of headache. And were able to order the part in advance and have the part waiting when the vessel made a routine call to port. That is a huge deal. It's no fun being on a ship when the engine goes down and the lights go out and you're in the middle of the bering sea with no steering and no power. That tends to get adrenaline moving quickly," adds Downing.

The MarineInsight system is not limited to fishing vessels. Ed McEvoy at Western Towboat Company has the system installed on several of the company's tugs. After trying a number of different systems with little success, Ed notes the MarineInsight system "has saved us multiple times on potential problems and is basically a 24-hour monitoring system. There is very little hardware to install, nothing like the gear that was installed the last go around. I'm happy with it. It's easy to use. I get the information I want and it'll notify me if it's not in the range we set."

One tug in particular has had problems with a fuel actuator. In the past the engineer has had to go down below several times per day, plug into a USB port, and run a diagnostics program. That gives the engineer a snapshot of information every so often. Being able to monitor the actuator percentage at 1-second intervals, 24 hours per day with MarineInsight is a huge improvement over that. But even more important than simply the monitoring part is the ability to predict problems in advance. In one instance ioCurrents was able to predict actuator failure days in advance and alert the fleet manager who then alerted the boat. They were able to take corrective action before the part failed, allowing them to complete the trip.

In another instance ioCurrents was able to remotely diagnose a high-pressure fuel injection pump issue and alert the fleet manager. When the fleet manager called to check in with the boat they were unaware of the issue. The manager then directed the crew to take corrective action, thus preventing engine failure. While that delay may have been inconvenient, it was definitely better than blowing the engine and being dead in the water with a barge in tow.

While the MarineInsight system is currently being used primarily to optimize engine and generator performance, minimize fuel usage and vessel wear, and better manage maintenance schedules, the sky is the limit in terms of potential applications going forward.

The system could be used to demonstrate compliance with closed areas or marine protected areas. It can be used in accident investigations. It's already being used to prevent accidents in the first place. It can provide critical information related to insurance claims and possibly even help negotiate better premiums. It could be used to gather information necessary for third party eco-certification schemes. It can be used to provide skeptical customers the assurances they need that fish that have been held at a specific temperature for a given period of time. And the list goes on and on.

"This product has incredible potential," adds B&N fleet manager Jerry Downing. "I don't believe that we have even begun to tap the potential. I know there is a lot more I would like to hook to it and see and help us better monitor and manage from a maintenance and operational standpoint. I think this is something the industry has been wanting for a long time and really not knowing where to find it."

Mark Gleason has more than 22 years of experience in the maritime industry, where he has fished commercially from California to Alaska and also worked on the advocacy side as a trade association Executive Director and government affairs representative. He currently owns a small consulting firm focused on maritime and fisheries issues, business development, and seafood sustainability. In his spare time he is the VP, Business Development for ioCurrents.


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