Written by Lesley Bankes-Hughes
Parent Category: Subscribers' News Board
Category: Global
 Published: 08 November 2016
 Created: 08 November 2016
 Last Updated: 08 November 2016

‘Taking delivery paperwork from a batch processing scenario of hand-completed paperwork with a pen to real-time reporting is a major shift for the industry, but we’re confident this application has the capability to do just that, and in the process, establish a worldwide standard,’ Jeff Mildner, co-founder of Vortex Development Group, tells Bunkerspot.

Digital Bunker, a tablet-based forms solution which incorporates GPS-tagged ships stamps, time-stamped signatures and provides instantaneous delivery of PDF files to multiple stakeholders simultaneously, was unveiled to local physical suppliers at the International Bunker Industry Association's (IBIA) Annual Convention this week in Gibraltar.

Developed by Vortex Development Group over a two-year period, Digital Bunker was demonstrated at the event using a custom-tailored version of Gibraltar’s Code of Practice—a 65-page series of forms and questionnaires from the port which has been turned into an app.

The Gibraltar App is part questionnaire, part image capture, part signature capture and includes a many data fields for reporting.  In addition to emailing a multi-page PDF file to all stakeholders, all question responses are tracked in a series of databases for customised data mining by participating companies.

‘Technically, we’ve accomplished everything we’ve set out to do, but it’s only the start,’ said Jeff Mildner, who, along with Marc Gawthrop, has been finessing the software for use by physical suppliers and port authorities around the world. 

‘Long-overdue in an industry slow to change course, Digital Bunker represents a glimpse into what we believe will be the new paradigm, just as Google has replaced the encyclopedia, the dictionary and the reference manual.

'I believe the adoption of a digital solution for the industry rests with each port authority and their willingness to sponsor and embrace a system,’ Mildner told Bunkerspot.

‘It’s obvious the future of bunkering will transition to the digital arena, as all things shipping are heading into the world of big data.  The capture of so many points of information simply can’t be done by the traditional method of entering data into a computer back at the office after a delivery was conducted with a pen on paper.

‘There’s just no comparison to the level of speed and comprehensive reporting that can be done with tablets running customised software.’

Each Port Authority edition of Digital Bunker is a variation on a theme, capitalising on the look and feel of an easy-to-use software interface.

Vortex has already developed a TR 48 version of Digital Bunker ready for use in Singapore that generates a 20-page PDF file as output and the company says it is also hard at work on solutions for other ports and agencies.

‘Customising the app for each port authority is the next step in our development process—we have the framework down and it’s very robust,’ said Mildner.

The main shortcoming to any digital solution is the issue of connectivity. Without a cellular or satellite connection, no software can be considered suitable as a bunker delivery tool.  As technology races forward, the connectivity issue will become less and less important for all but the most remote locations.  Even today, a solution exists to overcome this shortcoming—a data-only satellite system positioned on the bunker tanker, ensuring worldwide connectivity.

‘I believe we’ve delivered a functionally-elegant digital solution to the longstanding problem of getting a paper delivery note from the ship to the office with signatures, stamps and all MARPOL required declarations,’ Gawthrop commented. 

Currently available at no-charge on Apple’s App Store, Digital Bunker is the ‘engine’ for driving the multitude of forms required in shipping today.  The first form under that engine is E-Ship Safety and this will soon be followed by an E-BDN (bunker delivery note) in early 2017. 

Vortex is looking to begin field tests with the Gibraltar Port Authority immediately and fine-tune the system over the next few months after connectivity logistics are worked out.

A key aspect of the Vortex approach is that it provides the requisite hardware for its software to run on.  As a means of removing the barrier to entry for companies to participate in field tests and to help encourage early adoption, the company is providing 2 iPads and a battery-powered WI-FI printer as part of the ‘kit’ to go onboard each bunker tanker.  Without the right hardware, the chance for adoption, and ultimately success is low.

Vortex is also providing the cellular contracts for each iPad and will facilitate the purchase, delivery and installation of satellite systems (when required) for anchorages with poor cell service, thus guaranteeing connectivity from each tanker using its system.

Mating fuel consumption knowledge and fuel delivery history is the next step in compliance with the recently announced International Maritime Organization (IMO) Mandatory Fuel Consumption Data Collection System requirement for all ships beginning in 2019.

‘Establishing a software solution and working through the issues before 2019 gives us plenty of time to fine-tune a system that integrates with other aspects of Digital Bunker and we welcome the opportunity to work with companies as our software evolves,’ said Gawthrop.




​Development Group