Technology Archives - Kemplon Engineering

Developments in Unmanned Ship Technology

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Groundbreaking Development in the Making

Unmanned ships will start operating in the next ten to fifteen years says Bjorn Age Hjollo, the e-Navigation project manager of mapping services company NAVTOR. The company is representing the maritime industry in the EU-funded ENABLE project for checking autonomous vessels for safety.

 

Unmanned Ships will Operate with Varying Degrees of Human Intervention
Image Courtesy of NorthBySouthBaranof at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bridge_of_the_RV_Sikuliaq.jpg

Back in May 2013 at the Shipping Industry Conference in London, audience and even some co-panelists wrote off Oskar Levander’s suggestion of unmanned ships soon becoming a reality. The Vice President of Innovation at Marine Rolls-Royce is used to such reactions on his favorite topic.

The world seems to have come a long way from May 2013. Just to put things in perspective, over 90% of the volume of world’s goods are transported via ships. Anything that affects the health of shipping therefore has global ramifications.

Other similar projects include Rolls-Royce Blue Ocean Team’s Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) and the Hronn unmanned vessel, a partnership between the UK-based Automated Ships and Norway-based Kongsberg.

In October 2016, the Norwegian Maritime Authority and Norway’s Coastal Administration opened near Trondheimsfjord, northern Norway the world’s first area dedicated to autonomous ships. The Danish Maritime Authority is partnering with the Technical University of Denmark for a similar objective.

While unmanned ships offer numerous cost and environmental advantages, there are several concerns on how safe they are. Then again, these are exposed to hacking by cyber hackers. And the million dollar investments they require beg asking whether the cost savings are worth the benefit.

The Different Projects for Developing Unmanned Vessels

Before moving ahead, we must mention the Level of Autonomy because, in the general perception, autonomous ships operate with artificial intelligence and without human contribution. This is not entirely true.

 

Engine Rooms of Unmanned Ships will Use Minimal Number of Humans
Image Courtesy of Clipper (Assumed) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DSCF0443.JPG

Leading classification society Lloyd’s Register (LR) has defined six levels of autonomy from AL 1 to AL 6. Only AL 6 is a completely autonomous ship capable of operating with no onboard crew at all.

Originally designed to prove, verify, and validate the safety of autonomous cars, ENABLE branched out to doing the same for autonomous ships. ENABLE will be operational till 2019 with special focus on the remote bridge or the shore-based bridge concept.

Car makers have already made substantial developments in this regard. NAVTOR is working with research institutes and car makers to test the validity of the software used for the remote bridge concept.

Secure data transmission is a huge challenge for such vessels. Other partners in the ENABLE project include IBM, Renault, Philips, Siemens, Philips Medical Systems, and Tieto.

 

 

Manned Ships May Soon be a Thing of the Past
Image Courtesy of the United Kingdom Government at http://www.iwm.org.uk/
Retrieved From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Officers_on_the_bridge.jpg

Rolls-Royce Blue Ocean Team’s Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) is a €6.6 million project to design unmanned ships by building the technological and regulatory readiness for commercial operations of the first demonstrator of such a vessel.

AAWA has pooled the intellect of ship designers, universities, classification societies, and shipbuilders to assess the technical, regulatory, social, economical, and legal factors necessary to build such a ship. Currently, it is in the second phase and will be complete by end-2017.

Rolls-Royce has the experience to coordinate multi-disciplinary teams to design complicated technologies. The company also has the technical capacity for vessel design, power and propulsion equipment, and integration of complex systems, all necessary for making unmanned ships a reality.

Testing and validation of large ships requires a dedicated maritime area. The Norwegian Maritime Authority and Norway’s Coastal Administration opened the world’s first area dedicated to autonomous ships near Trondheimsfjord, northern Norway in October 2016.

UK-based Automated Ships and Norway-based Kongsberg are looking to build the Hronn, the world’s first unmanned and fully automated vessel for offshore operations. It will be designed for scientific industry, offshore energy, and fish-farming and will utilize the Trondheimsfjord area for trials.

Pros, Cons, & Challenges

The technology for autonomous ships is moving ahead steadily. Experts believe the global maritime community will view it seriously only when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) established guidelines for their operation in international waters.

As yet, the IMO has not done so. The Maritime Autonomous Systems Regulatory Working Group (MASRWG) in the UK has however defined a code of conduct for surface maritime autonomous systems and will soon come out with a code of practice.

 

Bridge of a Cruise Ship that Allows 360-Degree View
Image Courtesy of Uploader at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sapphire_Princess_Humongous_Ship_III.jpg

Shipowners will favor unmanned ships on account of the cost and environment advantage they have to offer. Regulators, insurance operators, and labor unions are not that happy.

According to industry consultant Moore Stephens LLP, crew cost makes up 44% of the total, the single largest expense. Rolls-Royce believes the era of inexpensive shipping is coming to an end as oil prices will pick up after a prolonged slump.

And they have. In November 2016, member countries of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed to cut oil productions in a bid to halt the fall and fall of global crude oil prices. Prices shot up immediately.

Even while OPEC members were struggling to make the decision on production cuts, in October 2016 to be precise, the World Bank had raised the 2017 estimate for crude oil prices from $53 per barrel to $55 per barrel.

Ships that do not carry seafarers are devoid of seafarer facilities such as accommodation, water storage, heating, air conditioning, and waste treatment apparatus. Such ships can be 5% lighter and burn 12-15% less fuel.

Rolls-Royce intends to make such ships use the most eco-friendly fuels. This will offset the cost needed to comply with the increasingly exacting environment norms of the near future. These ships will also have solar and wind power assistance while boasting of hulls that create minimum drag.

Navigation in open seas is not a great challenge. We already have specialist cameras that can provide better visuals than humans during days, nights, and fogs. Not to mention the navigational capacity added by RADARs and SONARs.

But are the cost and expense worth the benefits? Taking 44% as the crew cost, large container ships spend about $3,299 per day. The investment into unmanned ships runs into millions of dollars.

Cyber security remains critical for the success of unmanned ships for these can be misguided by hackers – a third party, a company employee, or an inadvertent threat. The use of military grade technology is a possible but highly exorbitant solution.

Then again, there are serious concerns about the number of seafarer jobs such ships will cut. All disruptive technologies generate the job loss bogey the way computers did back in the 1970s. In recent times, 3D Printing has partly created this job-loss ogre.

It is for this reason that the International Transport Workers Federation is opposing autonomous vessels. Over the long term however such technologies create more jobs than they cut. And the unmanned ships technology is decades away from being disruptive.

According to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty AG, most maritime accidents are a result of human errors. Theoretically, unmanned ships would be free of such accidents. But that is only half the story.

Often, it is the incompatibility between humans and technology that causes accidents. The makers of unmanned ships will have to take pains to ensure there is absolutely no incompatibility between diverse disciplines and technologies that go into making autonomous vessels.

And navigating unmanned ships in and near ports would be impossible considering the immense complexity involved. Similarly, ships carrying hazardous cargo will have to be manned. And we will require humans at ports to load, unload, repair, and maintain ships.

Finally

Technology is here to stay. Innovations create a set of critics and a group of admirers. And there are the fence sitters in between. It is only after the technology demonstrates its utility, safety, and reliability that it becomes widely acceptable. As yet, unmanned ships are far from this mark.

Visit our blog for more on cutting edge advances in the shipping industry.

But if you are interested in astounding marine fabrication services, marine pipe fitting, and large scale custom metal fabrication, visit Kemplon Engineering.

Panama Canal Updates: Good News, Bad News

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October is turning out to be a month filled with news and developments for the Panama Canal. From expansion setbacks to potential delays, and securing fresh funding and setting new tonnage records, there’s both bad and good news for this 100-year-old icon of shipping and engineering.

The Panama Canal, a waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, was officially opened in August of 1914 – making it over 100 years old. The waterway would provide a vital shortcut for many ships along the course of its tumultuous history, which includes a past plagued by a revolution, riots, and over 25,000 worker deaths across its years of construction. 13,000 to 14,000 ships still go through the canal annually, yielding about $1.8 billion in toll fees, and it is currently undergoing a $5.25 billion expansion project to accommodate larger cargo vessels.

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Renewable Power At the Port of Honolulu

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A “big step” for the clean energy economy – exploring the potential of hydrogen fuel cell-powered generators at the Port of Honolulu. 

A Big Step for Clean Energy Economy. A senator had proclaimed it a “big step” for the United States’ emerging clean energy economy. At the Young Brothers Ltd. facility in the Port of Honolulu in Hawaii, a hydrogen cell-powered generator is being tested, for potential use in place of diesel generators. The alternative being tested could one day lead to more energy efficiency due to its better ability to withstand load fluctuations, on top of generating less carbon pollution on ports as well as in the high seas, because hydrogen fuel cells produce no pollutants or greenhouse gases when used. Read More

Monthly Maritime News Roundup: August, 2015

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Kemplon Engineering rounds up some of the most buzzed-about news and developments of August, 2015 in this edition of the Monthly Maritime News Roundup:

Egypt figured heavily in the news cycles this month, following early August’s launching of an Expansion to the Suez Canal. The inauguration was hosted by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and attended by foreign dignitaries. The project has its critics, but proponents hope the $8.2 billion project could bring in more shipping traffic and revenues to the canal, which is already the shortest connection between Asia and Europe. The expansion had involved deepening the main waterway and carving out a parallel, 35km-channel, taking 12 months to complete. Read More

New World Record for Manned, Freefall Lifeboat Drop: 131 Feet!

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No one ever wants to experience being caught in a potentially fatal disaster in the middle of the sea, needing to abandon a massive ship or offshore installation just to be able to survive. But these are precisely the type of situations that should be well-considered and prepared for, to ensure the well-being of seafarers.   Part and parcel of their continuing safety is having the right training and equipment – such as lifeboats – to be able to survive if the worst should come to pass. Read More

North America’s First LNG-Powered Ferry

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Introducing the NM F.A. Gauthier: North America’s First LNG-Powered Ferry, commissioned in Canada.

Last April, the new ferry NM F.A. Gauthier launched from famed shipyard Fincantieri in Naples, Italy and headed to Canada. Its destination – Matane, Quebec, where it is set to traverse the Matane-Baie-Comeau-Godbout ferry service for the Societe des traversiers du Quebec (“STQ”).

The liquefied natural gas (“LNG”)-powered NM F.A. Gauthier can accommodate 800 passengers and 180 vehicles, while meeting Emission Control Area (“ECA”) sulfur regulations and even having the capability to cut through sea ice. Extra features include shops, passenger lounges, a children’s game room and a bistro, cafeteria and bar. Read More

Introducing the Aranui 5: Half Freighter, Half Cruise Ship

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Half-freighter, half-cruise ship Aranui 5 will be traversing French Polynesia on trips ‘mixing business and pleasure’ as a passenger freighter.

The cruise offer is enticing, and sounds just like what’s on the market for many a cruise ship – captivating, intoxicating French Polynesia following the travels of Paul Gaugin and Robert Louis Stevenson, attentive local staff to see to passengers needs, comfort, space and relaxation in fitness and massage rooms, bars, lounges, a library and swimming pool, balconies and suites, and excellent meals and infectious music. Off the ship, excursions on whaleboats will include white sand beach stops, picnics, hikes, jeep safaris, horse riding, and meeting local artists.

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