With the new Merit project, Finland aims to bring together its maritime and ICT industry expertise to become a frontrunner in smart maritime industry. iStock / LifesizeImages
Finland may be known for Nokia, Angry Birds and forests, but where the country wants to tap next leaves the land behind altogether: the smart maritime industry.
There aren’t many ships today that sail without technology and its role in the maritime industry is growing fast. Tightening safety, environmental regulations and rising fuel prices are driving the development of new solutions which improve processes and efficiency.
This is the domain of the ‘smart maritime industry’ and in particular its integration of information communications technology (ICT) which is used for everything from new ways of applying weather data to digitalisation of harbour bureaucracy. Or, in future, even for fully automated vessels controlled from the mainland.
Finland wants to be at the forefront of creating these solutions. Step forward is the country’s new ‘Smart Maritime Technology Cluster’, the Merit Project. The ambition of Merit is to melt the maritime industry, ICT services, the Internet of Things (IoT) and startups together to create a Finnish maritime IT cluster that caters to international shipyards and the offshore industry as well as shipping companies and ports.
“The smart maritime industry is built on two strong Finnish industry sectors: the maritime industry and ICT. Finland is top of the class in both,” says Jussi Nissilä, Senior Analyst at consultants Oxford Research which recently conducted a study on opportunities in the sector.
Discovering top expertise
While there is no shortage of Finnish maritime knowhow, the challenge is to bring together very different industries, working cultures and even terminology. The Merit Project, led by Finland’s capital city Helsinki and funded by the Finnish Ministry of Economy and Employment, aims to knock down these barriers by first offering a platform for networking and cooperation.
“Someone told me 17 forms have to be filled in to ensure a container is carried from one harbour to another,” explains Eniram’s CTO Jussi Pyörre as an example on why smart maritime technology is needed. “Even if it isn’t our core competence, we could help [as part of the Merit cluster] to create solutions for these kinds of problems.”
The next step is to enhance the international visibility of Finnish maritime expertise, support companies in finding new markets as well as co-develop new products and services for the maritime industry.
“The unique approach here is that we are actively seeking growth and new ideas from the ICT side by bringing together players from two different fields,” explains Nissilä. “It is a competitive market, but there aren’t many countries which have profiled themselves as the frontrunner in the smart maritime industry.”
The potential of doing so is huge: in Finland alone the maritime industry is worth in excess of five billion euros while around 90 percent of world trade is transported by the shipping industry.
Finland is already home to a number of leading companies in the maritime industry, including global giants like Wärtsilä and ABB in engines and propulsion systems. Furthermore many of the world’s biggest cruise ships have been built in shipyards in Western Finland while Aker Arctic, a specialist in arctic seafaring conditions, runs the only privately owned ice model testing facility in the world in Helsinki.
Several smaller companies are making their mark in maritime technology, such as optimisation specialists Napa and Eniram. Now Merit is bringing together their maritime expertise with the ICT sector.
Eniram believes in cooperation
“The great thing about Finland is that we are a small country and can efficiently do these kinds of projects [such as Merit] without it becoming too bureaucratic,” says Jussi Pyörre, Chief Technology Officer at Eniram.
Eniram is not only a member of the Merit project but one of the most successful examples of recent Finnish smart maritime expertise. The company, founded in 2005, specialises in energy management technology and uses data analytics to reduce seafaring costs and environmental impact:
“Our system is installed on 250 vessels all around the world. Last year we helped to save 60 000 tonnes of fuel in these vessels,” Pyörre explains. “That equals to the emissions produced by 40 000 cars in a year. We have 70 employees, so each of them is responsible for removing over 500 cars from the planet when it comes to emissions.”
Eniram estimates there are approximately 60 000 ships globally that could use its technology and this is also where Pyörre sees the main benefits of the Merit project: targeting potential customers and developing new services together.
“What customers need are solutions to their problems, not software. If we can offer a part of the solution, we are more than happy to be included in a package which is offered together with other companies,” Pyörre describes. “In the [Merit] cluster we could together create a complete solution for the customer.”
Furthermore, these ideas could be tested in Finland. Notably Oxford Research foresees a test environment for smart maritime technology which will be up and running in Finland inside the next four years. This could be a test harbour or cargo vessel for trying out future navigation and communications or other ICT and IoT tools in real-life conditions.
Merit’s long term goal is to turn the smart maritime industry into recognisable international brand similar to that of Finland’s mobile gaming industry. Because the biggest splash doesn’t always need to come from an Angry Bird.
The maritime industry represents a huge but fairly traditional market in need of new ways of optimising and improving its processes.
iStock / TERADAT SANTIVIVUT
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