Creating a digital twin: The key to building a smart vessel

By Claire Cole

Uncertainty has gripped the marine industry in recent years. Ship owners and operators must concentrate on maintaining tight control of operations more than ever before. Vessel economics demand this. Understanding what factors drive costs, reducing the amount of time a ship spends in port and reducing risks across the entire enterprise are strategic imperatives for operators in this environment.

But how can owners and operators maintain this high level of control? It starts with building a smart ship, and the digital twin drives the creation of a smart ship.

What is the digital twin of a ship?

The digital twin is a virtual representation of a vessel comprised of all the critical onboard systems. Ideally, this starts in the ship design phase and carries through construction, with updates and tweaks being added throughout the ship’s lifecycle to reflect maintenance and upgrades. Having a complete and up-to-date digital twin opens a world of opportunity for operators. Simulations can run using the digital twin to gather insight into how a ship will behave in different scenarios and conditions. Operators can identify and troubleshoot potential issues or suboptimal situations and plan future use scenarios.

Harnessing data to create a smart vessel

Data is crucial to using the digital twin to create a smart vessel. Once the digital twin exists, it can (and should!) be connected to onboard sensors to gather real-time operational data to analyze various facets of performance – everything from planning maintenance to optimizing fuel use and route planning.

The digital twin and the data it can collect can reduce risk across operations by helping crew members do their jobs more effectively. In conjunction with the digital twin, various assistive technologies can give the crew training on tasks and information while completing tasks. Technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning can help operators better manage a single ship and a whole fleet.

Ships generate enormous amounts of data that have gone underutilized in the past. Creating a digital twin and adopting new digital technologies can put that data to work and solve real business challenges in the marine industry.

Digitalization is at the core of ship operations

In the past, the marine industry has been slow to adopt new technologies. However, the digital twin and digitalization, in general, are paving the way for a new way of operating. Creating smart vessels that harness the multitude of data available using the digital twin is a necessary, strategic move ship operators should make. If you would like to learn more about designing a smart ship, download this free analyst report on how digitalization will play a massive role in the industry moving forward.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at