Rolls-Royce Marine has taken digitalization seriously. Unmanned cargo ships could become a reality on our oceans within the decade. The company has already gained a thought leader position and aroused worldwide interest among media such as BBC, NBC and Wired magazine. How did they succeed?
A year and half ago Rolls-Royce Marine top management made a historical decision: they agreed to invest a remarkable amount of money in designing drone cargo ships. Unmanned ships would be more efficient, cleaner, and less expensive than the current ocean freighters. Today it seems an inevitable development, however back then it was not an easy decision to make.
“When talking about digitalization, you are heading towards uncharted waters. Nobody really know how to navigate there. It takes an immense amount of courage to make the decision. “It was not easy for us”, claims Sauli Eloranta, Senior Vice President, Technology Management and Innovation for Rolls-Royce Marine.
Digitalization is a hot topic within the industry. Especially interesting is what kind of services the manufacturing industry can offer to its clients. The word digitalization is losing its disruptive meaning as it has been repeated so often, however, that does not change the fact society and business are going through a significant change.
“Scalability. That is the key word. Talking about the Internet of Things (IoT), the number of all vehicles, vessels, machines and devices is incredible. There is huge potential in this area. For example, in the car industry; it has been predicted that in the year 2025 all cars are connected to a common data network and by 2035 over 70% of cars are autonomous. Now it seems utopian, but it may even be an overcautious estimation.”
Potential is still only potential until it is realized. This is the Achilles’ heel of digitalization: how to make business out of it? Eloranta says you need to find your own blue ocean in digitalization referring to the famous strategy theory of W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. In other words, you need to find an area that no-one else has yet discovered.
Rolls-Royce will continue the development of the advanced autonomous ships with co-operation of universities, ship designers and equipment manufacturers while the other The Rolls-Royce Blue Ocean team is responsible for research and development of future maritime technologies and focuses on the disruptive game-changing innovations.
“In 2-3 years we will be able to pilot an unmanned ship in co-operation with our clients”, says Eloranta.
What does it take to find your own blue ocean? According to Eloranta; courage, ability to give up current priorities, rethinking of processes and communication.
“People need to fully understand the concept and its meaning to adapt it as a part of their work. For example R&D need to rethink the service from scratch. When you try to achieve something new, there are no ready-made solutions and processes and you need to accept that.”
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