The maritime industry is the backbone of global trade and commerce, carrying over 90% of all goods and employing millions of people worldwide.

However, as the industry continues to boom and demand ramps up, the pressure on shipping companies and marine-based organisations increases. From battling harsh and remote locations and ensuring efficient operations to reducing environmental impacts and complying with strict regulatory requirements, organisations within this sector face their fair share of challenges.

As such, governments and maritime leaders must find ways to optimise and bolster marine operations. The solution? Digital transformation.

The pace of digital transformation in the maritime sector has accelerated in recent years, and in the current era of connected technologies, implementing the latest technology will be crucial for any marine business hoping not to get left behind.

So, what can modern marine electronics offer the maritime industry — and which key factors must electronics manufacturing service providers and original equipment manufacturers consider to ensure they meet stringent requirements?

Facilitating remote monitoring

The internet of things (IoT) has revolutionised how the marine sector collects and shares data.

From shipping containers to buoys and vessel exhausts to maintenance systems, IoT technologies can transform assets into a data source — with many valuable remote monitoring benefits for marine professionals.

For instance, installing IoT sensors on ships and in strategic fixed locations allows operators to track environmental conditions to inform navigation. These sensors can also monitor the ship’s system health and perform predictive maintenance to ensure safety and functionality when in hard-to-reach sites — rather than deploying an teams, which can be risky and expensive.

IoT sensors are invaluable for meeting compliance requirements, such as the European Union’s monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) regulation. This legislation requires European shipping companies to record paramters like the CO2 emissions and fuel consumption of their vessels as part of the EU’s ‘Green Deal’ targets for maritime, encouraging operatives to embrace IoT-enabled systems and manage this process remotely.

Driving automation

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies are making waves across every industry — and the maritime sector is no exception.

Paired with IoT capabilities, AI and ML are enabling more marine companies to adopt automation — leading to the development of the shipping sector’s latest innovation: autonomous ships.

Autonomous vessels aim to reduce human error by internally monitoring their health and identifying and communicating their surroundings to make informed decisions without crew intervention.

With the promise to improve safety, security and efficiency, it is no surprise industry leaders are already making headway in developing autonomous vessels. After The Clean Autonomous Public Transportation Network (CAPTN) initiative successfully remotely controlled and manoeuvred its catamaran Wavelab, it has announced plans to test it in autonomous mode by the end of 2024.

Whilst exciting projects like the Wavelab continue to develop, various 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, which could rise to 10–13% in just a few decades without effective action.

Although these statistics have prompted the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to revise its greenhouse gases (GHG) strategy — aiming to reduce the average carbon intensity of international shipping by at least 40% by 2030 — marine electronics also have the chance to play a central role in cutting harmful emissions.

For example, 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

Whilst digital solutions offer many benefits for maritime professionals — presenting opportunities to improve efficiencies and streamline processes — designing marine electronics is no simple feat.

As electronics in this industry become more sophisticated and complex, it is imperative for component and original equipment manufacturers to ensure every part adheres to the highest standards of quality.

An autonomous ship, for example, requires sensors that are able to withstand environmental pressures and support the 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).

To protect PCBs from the harshness of marine environments, manufacturers should make sure PCBs and components go through the overmoulding, potting or encapsulation process to defend them against elements like corrosive salt spray, wind and hydrostatic pressures. In addition, any parts 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 and reliable.

At Swan EMS, our team is unwavering when it comes to 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.

Want to discover more about our electronics manufacturing services for the marine industry and how we can help with your next maritime project? Give us a call at 01495 320 989 or email to discuss your requirements.