Voith used the 12th National Maritime Conference in Rostock, Germany earlier in May 2021 to highlight a project it has been leading on the use of remote-controlled tugs
The aim of the Ferngesteuerte Schlepper bei An- und Ablegemanövern großer Schiffe (FernSAMS) project is to determine the efficacy of using remote-controlled tugs during berthing manoeuvres of large ships. The overall objective was to make the use of tugs safer and more efficient, and to find new ways to enhance competitiveness.
To realise the project, Voith assembled a consortium that also included the Hamburg University of Technology, Fraunhofer Centre for Maritime Logistics and Services, the Federal Office for Hydraulic Engineering, winch and crane manufacturer McGregor, Marine Training Centre (MTC) Hamburg and communication specialists from MediaMobil. The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.
Voith vice president research and development and project manager for FernSAMS Dr Dirk Jürgens said, “Standardised, automated tugboat assistance will significantly reduce costs for shipping companies and port operators and increase the speed of individual ship manoeuvres. In the global shipping environment, every minute saved represents a considerable cost saving.”
Using remote controlled rather than manned tugs should make it possible to reduce construction and operating costs, the consortium believes. With tugs under remote control, there would be no need for accommodation spaces, sanitary facilities for the crew, noise insulation and even the bridge of vessel could also be eliminated from tug design and construction.
“Doing so would reduce the weight of these ‘floating powerhouses,’” said Voith, “which makes them even more manoeuvrable and reduces fuel consumption. The concept also opens up options for the design of remote-controlled vessels – for example, there is no longer a need to provide a deck house to accommodate towing gear.”
Another major objective of the FernSAMS project was to significantly improve safety. Currently, tow lines are handed over manually, requiring the tug operating at the bow of the ship to navigate directly in front of it. Pilots on the bridge of vessels – which may be more than 300 m long with a breadth of 45 m – co-ordinate these manoeuvres with the crew of the tug.
During this process and dynamic manoeuvres, tow lines are subjected to immense forces, sometimes in the order of 100 tonnes. In contrast, with remote-controlled tugs, all critical manoeuvres and other operations can be controlled from a safe distance, minimising the risk of accidents.
However, partners in the FernSAMS project do not envisage completely autonomous tug operations. Dr Jürgens explained, “The basic principle is to replace one or several tugs in a team with unmanned vessels. Remote control is undertaken from one of the boats involved.
“For this to function properly in real time, there needs to be a fast and reliable data connection between all of the units involved, a system that works even if the mass of the ship is between a tug and the remote helmsman.” One potential solution, he says, would be to use the 5G mobile communications standard as a potential transmission solution. “Satellite communication is also a likely option to serve as a safety backup,” he concluded.
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