The future of the shipping industry

The shipping industry has faced challenges in 2020, so what technologies and innovations will help the efficiency and ease of the shipping landscape in 2021 

The world economy will recover following the COVID-19 pandemic and it will be the global shipping industry that will be at the forefront of this fightback. Yet the sector will not emerge unscathed and there will be economic casualties and any recovery will take time. What we must see in the next 12 months is a greater awareness of the working conditions of seafarers and the benefits of digital operations. 

The global recovery won’t happen overnight and the ‘new world’ will be one focused more on digital technology and the human element because if we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that there are weaknesses in the operational chain. If you can’t get to a ship, can’t conduct a survey or inspection, then that is a weakness of the current system. But the solutions are not in the far future, they are here and now, and we have been providing them for shipowners. We must re-evaluate the way we conduct business in the shipping world and move into the world of digital operations. 

Shipping industry experts have outlined some of the key trends that are likely to prevail in 2021 post-covid in order for the shipping industry to get back on its feet. The industry is grappling with en e-commerce influx, social restrictions, lack of technology and reduced visibility. These challenges present opportunities for innovation in 2021. 

The shipping industry is continually changing and adapting to meet the needs of the commercial marketplace, so that it can become more competitive and cost-effective. It is a huge and complex industry, which is constantly being affected by global trends and by advances in technology, materials and fuels. Leo McLeman, Marine Challenge Fund Lead, Cornwall Development Company discusses five future trends relevant in the shipping industry for 2021. The trends perfectly illustrate some of the dynamic changes that are happening in the shipping industry and the new opportunities that these create for marine manufacturing businesses.

Digital sensoring

The technology for monitoring ship operations and performance has been steadily increasing in its sophistication. Ships of the future will have a complete network of sensors to measure all aspects of operations, including detecting faults and identifying areas needing maintenance or repair. Allied to this, increasingly powerful ship to shore communications will mean that most aspects of the ship’s operation can be controlled by a land-based team of fleet managers.

Bigger megaships

Improvements in ship technology, structure and materials will lead to even bigger megaships, particularly within the container shipping industry. Completed in March this year, the MOL Triumph is the world’s largest container ship. It measures 400m long (for comparison, The Shard building in London is 310m tall). This giant ship will carry up to 20,150 TEU containers. Manufacturers will seek to take advantage of the lower transport costs that these vessels can provide by gearing their production to make the most efficient use of this container space.

Greener shipping

There is constant pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of the world’s shipping fleets, and this will only increase into the future. A whole host of technologies are being explored including low carbon fuels, more streamlined hulls, more efficient propeller design, improved voyage planning to make savings on fuels, better hull coatings and even air cushions to reduce friction. 

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel

There is growing interest in the potential of LNG as a fuel for commercial shipping. Those who support LNG believe it can help operators to meet their targets for reduced emissions, while also being competitive on price. CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to 25% when compared with diesel engines. While conventional oil-based fuels will continue to dominate in the near future, there is likely to be increased adoption of LNG for specialist vessels, which gives an opportunity for the technology to be proved and developed on a larger scale.

Solar and wind power for ships

The shipping industry is exploring renewable energy to power the fleets of the future. Some of this technology is already being trialled and tested. The Turanor PlanetSolar is a catamaran powered by 29,000 solar cells which has successfully circumnavigated the globe. However, the likeliest application for this technology in commercial shipping will be systems that reduce fuel consumption by supplementing the existing power supply with on-board wind turbines or solar panels.

These are just some of the trends that are making marine technology such an exciting and challenging field to be working in at present. The many tough technological problems that our shipping industry is grappling with make marine technology a real land of opportunity for businesses of all sizes.


Shipping air serves no purpose; it simply increases cost unnecessarily and negatively impacts the environment. Oversized packages contribute directly to more vehicles on the road, pollution, congestion and greater shipping expenses. The larger the box, the fewer can fit into a trailer or cargo container. Jo Bradley, Business Development Manager for packaging solutions at Quadient, offers insight into current packaging shipping trends.

Until fairly recently carriage charges for domestic deliveries were based on a parcel charge with maximum weight and dimensions per parcel, so there was an incentive to use a smaller box as fresh air moved for free. That is changing. Many of the larger carriers and couriers have moved to a dual system whereby carriage is charged at a rate based on actual weight or ‘volumetric’ or ‘dimensional’ weight, whichever is the greater. Consequently, size really does matter.

Tailor-making a perfectly sized box, specifically for each order is now not only possible, but also readily available at speeds of up to 1,100 packages per hour. Quadient technology for example, in the form of the CVP Everest or the CVP Impack, makes it entirely feasible to maximise the cube of a trailer/container by reducing package volumes by up to 50%. One major retailer now gets 60 boxes on a pallet as opposed to 30, saving the business a trailer a day – a significant cost saving over a year. 

Packaging will not only be a big theme in 2021 because of sustainability, but also for efficiency and to meet ecommerce demands. 


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Media contact

Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, International Trade Magazine

Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922