The data drive

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From cutting energy costs to maintaining oil wells, the mountain of data generated every day in today’s digital world is transforming the way the Maersk Group does business. And the Group is only just beginning to discover its full potential.

In a situation room in Mumbai, a small team closely monitors a giant map of the world on a screen. They are watching the progress of hundreds of red dots moving across the map, each one pinpointing the exact location of a Maersk Line vessel going about its voyage.

The room is home to the Maersk Line Global Voyage Centre, which monitors Maersk Line’s fleet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The team is watching to ensure that the vessels keep to their optimum voyage speed. Too fast means an early arrival at the port, which costs a lot of money; too slow and the ship has to speed up to arrive on time, which means huge fuel wastage.


Teams across the Maersk Group are increasingly using ‘real-time’ data to make critical business decisions. Photo: Peter Elmholt


If all the data from a typical seismic survey were stored on CDs, they would stack up to a pile of 300 metres – as tall as the Eiffel Tower.

If all the data from a typical seismic survey were stored on CDs, they would stack up to a pile of 300 metres – as tall as the Eiffel Tower.

“Today every ship is connected to shore via GPS and satellite communications,” explains Pankaj Sharma, who leads the team. “We can monitor the speed, the fuel efficiency and even the weather conditions.”

Suddenly an alarm sounds indicating that Emma Mærsk in the North Sea is one knot over her optimum speed, and the team immediately contacts the captain to find out why. It’s actions such as this that saved Maersk Line USD 8.5 million in fuel costs in 2013. This year the Global Voyage Centre aims to have a USD 20 million impact on the bottom line.

A mountain of data

In today’s digital world, where everything is connected via the Internet and every action leaves an online trail, a mountain of data is generated every day that could be used to make critical business decisions.

Jasper Boessenkool, Head of Strategic R&D, Maersk Maritime Technology says data is the key to “sweating the assets.”

“It means squeezing the maximum out of the millions of dollars we have tied up in very costly, heavy assets. Being a big operator gives us a major advantage in terms of the data available to us,” he explains. “If you only have two ships, you only have so much data. If you operate over 500 ships, you’ve got data you can apply on a completely different scale.”

Having a ‘real-time’ information flow could make us better placed to make decisions on when to upgrade equipment and potentially save a lot of money.

Big data in Maersk

  • 4,000 sensors used to collect seismic data from the Culzean gas field.
  • 30,000 data tags for operations and condition monitoring on a typical Maersk Drilling rig (most of the data is not stored).


Cutting fuel costs could be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the data streaming from a vessel could be used to improve performance.

“We currently only use a fraction of the data available to us,” says Boessenkool. “Right now we are on a journey from analysing past data after the voyage has taken place, to daily data, and then towards ‘instant data’ – available online immediately both onshore and on the vessel.” A seismic shift

In the ultra-high pressure, high-temperature Culzean gas field in the North Sea, new innovations in seismic data-gathering have led to a major breakthrough for the project.

The field is currently awaiting development with Maersk Oil and partners set to invest in a three-platform gas facility complex. But before the leap was taken to develop such a technically challenging project, a massive amount of seismic data first had to be accumulated.

Geophysicists employed an innovative new technology – known as ‘ocean bottom cables’ – to form a clear picture of what lies beneath the subsurface at Culzean.

A total of 4,000 sensors were placed directly on the seabed to record reflections from acoustic waves emitted by a seismic vessel sailing above. The vessel covered a 460 square-kilometre area, sending out a sound wave every ten seconds for around three months to create a vast data set that the team worked on intensively for eight months to transform into seismic images.

Mega, giga, tera

  • 1 megabyte (MB) = 1,000 kilobytes.
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) = 1,000 megabytes.
  • 1 terabyte (TB) = 1,000 gigabytes or 1 million megabytes.

A 1 TB hard drive can hold 17,000 hours of music, 320,000 digital photos or 1,500 hours of video.
Maersk Oil’s senior geophysicist Line Plouman Jensen says the technology allowed for a superior image of the subsurface to be created. “The depths of the different geological formations are better understood and the data meant that we could build a convincing geological model in a complex structural setting. This information is invaluable to drillers in such a high-pressure, high-temperature environment.”

She adds: “There is still a wealth of information in the data set still to be extracted, analysed and understood.”

Smarter maintenance

Another area offering huge potential to shave down costs using data is maintenance. “When you design a ship, an engine or a drilling rig, you usually make an assessment in terms of when to maintain or upgrade on a fairly fixed time schedule,” explains Boessenkool. “But our ability to gather and monitor data today could pave the way for a completely new kind of maintenance management system.”

This could have major implications in the oil industry where wells must be periodically shut down for maintenance, at a huge cost.

“Having a ‘real-time’ information flow could make us better placed to make decisions on when to upgrade equipment and potentially save a lot of money,” agrees Henrik Tirsgaard, Head of Corporate Technology & Innovation at Maersk Oil.

“One idea is to measure corrosion using acoustic signals. Combined with other parameters such as the salinity of the water produced, we could create a more accurate picture of when equipment needs changing.”

Ideas such as this one are just the beginning in terms of how data use will transform the way the Maersk Group does business in the future.

In fact, Boessenkool believes the data generated across the Group is so valuable that it should be treated as an asset in itself. “We need to look at data in the same way as we view an asset such as a ship or a drilling rig,” he says.

“I think we are just beginning to discover what data can do for us. The question in the coming years is how we experiment with it, find the potential, prove the value and use our knowledge across the Group to share that journey.”

This article first appeared on the Maersk website