Lessons from a 9-Year-Old

Lessons from a 9-Year-Old

By Lori Musser

Row upon row of veteran breakbulk industry players were under the spell of 9-year-old Evelyn Cotton at a Breakbulk Americas session on innovation.

Under the watchful eye of her father, Bechtel equipment operations manager Joshua Cotton, Evelyn took a couple of minutes and programmed on-the-spot a small self-made robotic vehicle to respond to movements in front of it, essentially acting as a guard dog.

The point made so cleverly by a child is that there is a new generation among us, one that makes child’s play out of incorporating technology into everyday activity, one that will expect technological advantages from industry in the future, and one that is inspiring innovation in our breakbulk and project cargo industries today.

Stephen “Spo” Spoljaric, Bechtel Oil, Gas & Chemical’s deputy field procurement manager, said companies must stay relevant, and using the same technology that we see every day – such as when booking a rideshare or OpenTable restaurant reservation, or when using an electronic boarding pass – is an important way to maintain relevance.

Spoljaric said innovation and technology should be easy, but, the key is integrating digitally across relationships in a transformative way.

“Our industry at its core is very, very traditional,” said Carsten Wendt, who heads up sales for high and heavy cargo and breakbulk for Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean.

“I personally believe we are just at the beginning,” said Wendt, citing the potential to invent digital solutions to make things “better, smarter and more cost effective.”

Wendt outlined a pilot project in Singapore to deliver spare parts to vessels via drone. He said cost savings could be upwards of US$4,000 per delivery. He said that across 200 ports, if there were only perhaps two drone lifts per day, savings could exceed US$675 million per year.

Joshua Cotton said Bechtel is working hard to leverage everyday technology at work. He said even very simple technology, like using Amazon to order gloves and welding rods, will eliminate a whole bunch of paperwork and lend a competitive edge.

Drones are another tool used at Bechtel to enhance efficiency and lower costs. “We have about 45 different use cases for drones,” Cotton said. “We use them for real estate management; we’ll fly over a 400-acre laydown yard, calculate the unused space and find a way to reorganize it to make more space available. We use it for surveys. It saves on boots-on-the-ground surveyors.”

Cotton said that a vertically integrated impetus for technology has begun. For example, customers are beginning to call for innovations related to safety. He said engineering, procurement and construction companies that can provide innovation and technology may derive an advantage – a differentiating factor from the competition.

Photo: Evelyn Cotton, 9-year-old daughter of Joshua Cotton of Bechtel (right), and Stephen “Spo” Spoljaric, also of Bechtel (left).