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Digitalisation in Shipping Series

Episode 2 – Digital Twins

Welcome to the second episode of our digitalisation in shipping series! Last week we looked at simulation, finding out more about the simulation centre at Solent University. This week we are going to discuss digital twins, looking specifically at how they support the development of new, more advanced vessels. Following on from this episode we will explore in further detail; automation, the further development of 5G, unmanned vessels, AI and the increased use of cloud-based software.

In the latest digital news, we have seen freight forwarder, DG International announce plans to improve their digital supply chain with a platform called Horizon. It is a bespoke platform that can be customised for various purposes, DG plan to use it to give customers visibility over the supply chain. They will be able to request quotes, book freight and manage shipments online. The platform works using cloud-based analytics, enabling customers to see in real-time, where their freight is located.

In order to discuss digital twins, we need to establish exactly what they are; a vessel’s digital twin is a virtual copy of the vessel, enabling tests to be carried out, producing valuable data insights. The concept of digital twins was being used way before the term was coined back in 2002; by NASA who used pairing technology right at the beginning of space exploration. NASA wanted to use the technology to find a way to rescue and repair a spacecraft when it wasn’t physically near them, the digital twins concept enabled them to do this.

The benefit of a vessel having a digital twin is that it negates the need to physically perform tests as the digital twin is the link between the physical and digital world. But how is a digital twin developed? Firstly, smart components containing sensors are attached to the physical object, these then feed information back such as real-time information, position or working condition. The data is then stored in the cloud and analysed. Different scenarios can be applied to this digital twin and then applied to the physical vessel when verified as useful.

Data can be gathered on any part of the vessel, allowing for better structural and mechanical maintenance planning. A digital twin could be used for many benefits including;

  • Planning hull or propeller cleaning
  • Comparing performance to other vessels in a fleet
  • Optimal fitting and replacement of parts
  • Optimising the running of machinery
  • Detailed feedback on ship performance


Digital twins are an interesting development in the advancement of digitalisation in shipping, do you use them in your day to day work? What is the most useful application for your business?