Industry 4.0 is the digital transformation of global industry. Digital twins pose to disrupt conventional business as they harness real-time data alongside a digitized representation of the state and behaviour of real assets to offer decision support. Sound and vibration research often entails multi-sensor measurements, signal processing and analytics providing an ideal training background to embrace the current innovation climate.

Funding from the South African National Antarctic Programme, has boosted the group’s research to instigate the digital transformation of Africa’s only polar research vessel, the SA Agulhas II, to a “flagship for Vessel 4.0”. The full-scale measurement project – engineering measurements on the ship in operation – kicked off in 2012. SVRG collaborated in an international consortium including the Universities of Aalto and Oulo, Aker Arctic, Det Norske Veritas, Rolls Royce, Wärtsilä and STX Europe. The then, newly commissioned SA Agulhas II was put to the test during two days of ice-breaking operations in the Bay of Bothnia in Finland during ice-trails. Today, the SA Agulhas II is equipped with +200 engineering sensors to measure the ice and waves in the ship’s environment, the bending and twisting of her hull and the wellbeing of passengers.

Future work aims to leverage the unique advantage of scarce operational full-scale data by transpiring the SA Agulhas II as a digital asset, hinging off Maritime 4.0. The digital transformation of the SA Agulhas II will slave data and models to offer decision support to the ship owner (Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries) or Captain for smarter and safer ship ventures. In 2020, Digitization of the ship hull can contribute local climate data on local wave conditions and identify damage to the ship structure. Cyber-physical counterparts of seafarers are also being investigated to deliver crew insights for improved safety, propelling the SA Agulhas II to be an ice-breaker in the ambit of maritime digitization.

Prof Annie Bekker is Principal Investigator on the “Digital Transformation of S.A. Agulhas II ” project funded by the National Research Foundation and hosted at Stellenbosch University in the Engineering Faculty. Meet the rest of the team  of students currently busy with research. Read more on SWG website about the project and  their publications and activities.

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