Marine Electronics: How EMS Companies Can Help Deliver New Digital Capabilities
By Phil Simmonds, CEO of EC Electronics.
The maritime sector underpins the global economy, forming the backbone of transnational commerce and employing more than a million people worldwide.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), shipping is responsible for over 80% of the volume of international trade, connecting countries and businesses via a network of shipping routes and supply chains.
As a result, governments and maritime leaders have long been searching for ways to optimise marine operations. These days, that means one thing: digital transformation.
With digitalisation sweeping through almost every sector and application, implementing the latest technology will be crucial for any shipping company or marine-based organisation hoping to keep pace with change.
So, what benefits can modern marine electronics offer — and what key factors must electronics manufacturing service (EMS) providers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) consider to ensure they live up to expectations?
Enabling remote monitoring
The internet of things (IoT) — the network of physical objects with embedded computing power and wireless internet connections — has revolutionised how we collect and share data in the marine sector.
From shipping containers to buoys and vessel exhausts to maintenance systems, the IoT can turn almost anything into a data source — with many valuable benefits for marine professionals regarding remote monitoring.
For instance, operators can track environmental conditions to inform navigation by installing IoT sensors on ships and in strategic fixed locations.
Additionally, they can monitor system health and perform predictive maintenance to ensure safety and functionality at hard-to-reach sites — rather than deploying an emergency team in case of a failure, which can be risky and expensive.
These sensors can also help meet compliance requirements, such as the European Union’s monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) regulation. This legislation obligates eligible shipping companies to record their ships’ CO2 emissions, fuel consumption and other crucial parameters as part of the EU’s ‘Green Deal’ targets for maritime, prompting many shipowners and operators to adopt IoT-enabled systems to manage this process remotely.
The emergence of next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) has facilitated the widespread rollout of automation. This digital capability is making significant waves in the maritime sector.
Paired with the capabilities of the IoT, AI and ML are empowering more marine companies to embrace automation — leading to the development of the next big thing in the shipping sector: autonomous ships.
Autonomous vessels promise to reduce human error by monitoring their health and identifying and communicating their surroundings to make informed decisions without crew intervention, improving safety, security and efficiency.
Industry leaders are already developing autonomous vessels, with the likes of Rolls-Royce hoping to introduce remote-controlled, crewless coastal vessels by as early as 2025.
In the meantime, several AI-powered autonomous features already exist in modern vessels and marine equipment — from environment monitoring solutions to autopilot features and computerised management systems that can control anything from propulsion to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
Improving energy efficiency
According to EU estimates, the shipping sector accounts for 3% of worldwide greenhouse gases. Without action, this figure could rise to 10–13% in just a few decades — prompting the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to set the target of cutting ocean-vessel emissions in half by 2050.
Marine electronics have a central role to play in achieving this goal. Electrifying the shipping industry by introducing battery-powered electric motors for ships and control systems will be crucial to reducing the use of fossil fuels and supporting cleaner, safer journeys.
In the future, docked container ships with electric power sources will be able to plug into onshore electricity supplies and switch their engines off instead of idling and producing more pollution as crews wait to unload cargo.
Plus, with enhanced data processing capabilities, the IoT and other Industry 4.0 technologies can speed up data collection and analysis to improve supply chain and operations management.
With a network of sensors and devices connecting goods and handlers across the logistics chain, the maritime sector has all the tools to optimise cargo handling and fleet management, creating opportunities to reduce delays and save fuel by streamlining processes — all of which can improve energy efficiency for more sustainable operations.
Design considerations for marine electronics
Undoubtedly, digital solutions offer many practical benefits for mariners, presenting exciting opportunities to improve efficiencies and streamline processes.
However, as marine electronics become increasingly complex, component manufacturers and OEMs must ensure every part adheres to the highest standards of quality and reliability — especially as more mission-critical tools and capabilities depend on electronics to function.
For example, an autonomous ship will require a range of sensors able to withstand environmental pressures and support the routine operation of high-definition cameras, GPS systems, connectivity systems, thermal imaging tools and more.
Therefore, all devices must work at an unwavering degree of accuracy, meaning manufacturers must carefully consider electronic design for integral parts like printed circuit boards (PCBs).
Due to the harshness of marine environments, manufacturers should apply a protective coating to all PCBs and components through overmoulding, potting or encapsulation. In addition, any products subject to high-pressure water and steam jets or long-term immersion must have the highest ingress protection ratings — IP68 and IP69K — to ensure they remain robust.
At EC Electronics, our team places great emphasis on meeting expectations for exceptional quality and zero-defect production, manufacturing marine electronics modules and sub-assemblies to the highest standards — including IPC-A-610 standards for PCB assemblies and IPC/WHMA-A-620 for cable assemblies.
We carefully consider the demands of the final application to ensure we provide the most suitable components and solutions — providing our customers with peace of mind that the products we supply ensure safety and security throughout their life cycles.