A picture worth a thousand volts

By | 4 minute read | November 22, 2019

Offshore wind turbines spring up from the sea like sprouted plants from the soil—today, in greater numbers than ever before. Below the ocean’s surface, their critical cable network extends—as if roots—and connects more consumers year-over-year with renewable sources of energy.

The proliferation of wind farms speaks to how strong the winds of change are blowing and have helped propel us towards the future of sustainability efforts. As it stands, 14 percent of the European Union’s energy demand was met with wind power in 2018. The continued production and maintenance of these propeller-topped marvels are crucial pursuits.

And to think, to be up close with one of these windswept giants – some reaching offshore heights as tall as 80 meters – would be just another day in the office for James Fisher and Sons plc. This UK-based company is a world-leading marine solutions organization, that in addition to being experts at submarine rescue, ship-to-ship transfers, and integrated engineering solutions, also provides solutions and services to maintain the subsea cables that transmit power from offshore wind farms to consumers on land.

It’s undeniable: the kinds of jobs in James Fisher’s repertoire overlook a backdrop of oceanic beauty. But there’s another thing of beauty worth admiring at this 170-year-old marine engineering company:

James Fisher is teeming with beautiful data.

The art of data science

With the help of the IBM Data Science and AI Elite team (DSE), James Fisher hypothesized on the potential benefits of dredging up all their siloed data from across a myriad of organizational sources. Together, the two teams paired to create visualizations of model data through a proof-of-concept project built on IBM Watson Studio and developed through the IBM Garage methodology.

Sean Huff, Chief Digital Officer at James Fisher, explains the partnership with IBM was, in his words, “all about trying to aggregate some of the data James Fisher has across industries and make sense out of it.” In addition, according to Huff, the goal was to answer the question of how to “turn data into valuable information and solve problems.”

The data visualizations were accessible via an easy-to-consume dashboard, and simulated risk assessments and predictions to aid maintenance scheduling of the subsea cables that connect offshore windfarms with the mainland.

With predictive maintenance, the data visualizations gave sight to the unseen; subsea cables lie on the seabed and are extremely difficult to observe, which causes cable caretakers to lack insight into their condition or status. Users could use the dashboard to drill down for live updates of the health of a cable, account for anomalies, and view predictions for potential risk to better plan for cable maintenance and continuity.

Watch the complete James Fisher story and discover how the power of IBM Watson Studio and data visualization can lead to a competitive advantage.

Drawing out a competitive advantage

Susara Van Den Heever, Program Director for IBM DSE in EMEA, lead a team consisting of Gianmaria Leo, DSE senior operations research engineer, and Mara Pometti, DSE data visualization specialist, to tell the story of James Fisher’s data and explain in business terms how data visualization could solve major business challenges.

One of these problems was skill-sharing. James Fisher employs a great number of highly-skilled specialists and experts. They are extremely vulnerable to knowledge loss due to retirement. Data visualization technology proves a possible remedy to empower non-expert “citizens” and flatten some knowledge demands or more easily ramp up fresh hires.

Most importantly, the degree of insight gained through data visualization and predictive maintenance would ensure interruptions to energy utility services – when relaying generated power from the offshore wind farms back to consumers on land – were kept to an absolute minimum.

According to Ryan Henderson, Executive Director of EDS HV Group (part of James Fisher), subsea cables are the “umbilical” that connect offshore wind with consumers. The ability to make predictions about these cables remotely – despite their restrictive location hundreds of meters deep – is an invaluable asset. Predictive maintenance helps to ensure renewable wind power has a route back to shore.

IBM and James Fisher visualize a renewable future

Together, James Fisher and the IBM Data Science and AI Elite team surge towards a renewable tomorrow with the electrifying power of data visualization. In this proof-of-concept, IBM Watson Studio impressed as an important tool to leverage James Fisher’s idle data. From there, data was transposed into data visualizations, delivered as insights, at a glance, to all levels of knowledge workers, and leveraged to help better assess subsea cable risk and determine maintenance schedules.

Setting course with this offshore wind farm use case as their navigation, James Fisher looks to potentially scale IBM Watson Studio and apply data visualization to other uncharted waters of the business.