When it comes to delivering supplies to vessels at sea, technology like drones and 3D printing could make supply vessels and helicopters redundant, writes Ed Martin
Improvements in load-handling and range could soon see drones being used to carry spares from shore to ship in place of manned vessels, while 3D printing may prove even more revolutionary, enabling products to be manufactured on board and doing away with supply vessels entirely.
Although the technology remains some way off widespread adoption, proponents of 3D printing are keen to highlight the benefits, which include reducing supply chain requirements to a bare minimum. Essentially, vessels would simply need to carry enough raw materials to fabricate new components on board.
It might sound like science fiction, but the technology is here and it is just a matter of time before it becomes commonplace. In September 2017, Naval Technology reported that Marinebedrijf Koninklijke Marine (MKM), the organisation responsible for maintaining the Royal Netherlands Navy’s vessels, planned to scan the entire Dutch military fleet, using the 3D images created as a basis for 3D-printed replacement parts.
MKM CNC coordinator Ben Jansen said to the naval journal: “In most cases, parts for the ships are being reverse engineered or newly created; this is especially the case in older navy vessels where the suppliers of the components no longer exist.”
While the initial 3D scanning required may be time-consuming and require an outlay cost, applying the method in a commercial setting could mean significant savings in both time and money, especially for parts that may be hard to track down or for which real-world fabricating tools no longer exist.
Additional benefits include reduced CO2 emissions, with fewer supply vessels needed, and real-time access to updated designs for ship systems.
In fact, an industry consortium is piloting a project to test 3D printing as an alternative to housing spare parts on ships and offshore facilities.
Green Ship of the Future – which includes J Lauritzen, Maersk Line, Maersk Tankers, Maersk Drilling, MAN Energy Solutions, DNV GL and Copenhagen Business School – are partnering with 3D-printing technology specialists Create it Real in the project, which is being financed by the Danish Maritime Fund.
The collaborative project will deliver secured, built-to-order 3D printers, training tools and videos to ships and drilling stations.
The consortium intends for crews to “learn the whole process independently” in order to become “self-sufficient” in the 3D-printing process, according to a statement.
J Lauritzen’s head of performance management Sverre Patursson Vange said “3D-printing technology is developing rapidly, and we believe it is ready for utilisation in the maritime industry. However, the harsh environment and the top priority to safety calls for precautions.”
Involving representatives from the “majority of the supply chain” in the pilot programme represents one precaution according to the group. Intellectual property rights and the secure transmission of files present other challenges, which Create it Real has addressed through the end-to-end encryption of files.
Shore-to-ship drone trials begin
Elsewhere, Norway’s Wilhelmsen Ships Service has announced it is partnering with Airbus to pilot the use of drones to deliver spare parts.
Starting in the third quarter of 2018, the two companies will be utilising Airbus’ Skyways unmanned air system (UAS) to deliver spare parts, documents, water test kits and 3D-printed consumables to vessels at anchorage from the Marina South Pier in the Port of Singapore.
Airbus will handle approvals from relevant aviation authorities and maintenance and operations of the UAS and control systems.
Wilhelmsen will set up the necessary maritime and port operations, gain relevant approvals from non-aviation authorities, secure customers and ensure UAS operations are compliant with maritime safety and security regulations
Wilhelmsen commercial vice president Marius Johansen said: “When we announced last year that we were pursuing drone delivery, we were greeted with a fair amount of scepticism, but our collaboration with Airbus shows we really do mean business.”
“Drone delivery is a perfect fit for our agency business. As part of our standard husbandry services, we organise the delivery of essential spares, medical supplies and cash to master via launch boat, day in and day out all over the world,” he added.
He noted that delivery by drone is more cost effective, quicker and “frankly safer for all involved”, adding that drone delivery can cost on average 90% less than launch boats, while mitigating the risks involved with making launch deliveries and having negligible environmental impact.
Airbus project lead Leo Jeoh said: “This collaboration with Wilhelmsen, the first of its kind in the region, gives us a unique test bed where we can trial, refine and shape the future of shore-to-ship drone technologies. This also serves as an exciting opportunity to bring together the strong domain expertise of both Airbus and Wilhelmsen, to pioneer the future of UAS in the maritime industry.”
The companies signed a memorandum of understanding at the Posidonia maritime conference in Athens. This followed a year of planning alongside the Singapore Maritime Port Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
An initial trial will take place over a two-week period, with a command centre and delivery centre established on the pier to make deliveries to ships within 3 km in the Eastern Anchorage. A second delivery station will also be established in the Marina South to extend coverage.
Four other Norwegian companies are also collaborating to investigate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones to transport cargo between offshore vessels and offshore installations.
Partners in the Safer Logistics from Unmanned Logistics Helicopter research project include offshore support vessel operator Olympic Subsea, Griff Aviation, Norut (the Northern Research Institute) and Stable, which specialises in motion-compensation technology.
Norut is leading the project and has experience in developing autonomous control systems for UAVs and of operating them in challenging weather conditions in northern waters. Griff Aviation develops and manufactures drones that have capacity to carry heavy cargo.
The project is drawing on expertise from the research community at the faculty of engineering and technology at the Arctic University of Norway in Narvik, which has extensive experience in automated drone operations.
Stable’s role is to develop a control system so that drones can operate from a moving platform. To this end, it is developing a stable platform for take-off and landing of the drone. The platform will be placed in a container on a ship’s deck, which would also act as a hangar for the drone. Olympic Subsea is an active development partner in the project, which is supported financially by the Research Council of Norway.
Connecting fleets with e-procurement
By connecting e-procurement platforms to fleet management software, the purchase of spares and supplies can be done seamlessly. This has been the goal of Norwegian fleet management software developer Tero Marine and US-headquartered e-commerce company iMarine Software.
Tero Marine has connected its fleet management program TM Master to iMarine Software’s Seaproc e-procurement hub, enabling ship operators using Tero Marine software on their vessels to connect directly with more than 50,000 global maritime vendors.
iMarine Software said this connection between both platforms “provides significant transaction efficiencies for the marine supply chain”.
TM Master is an integrated marine information system, comprising modules for planned maintenance, procurement, crew management and quality assurance. Tero Marine said this helps increase operational efficiency, control and safety for ship operators.
Greek tanker owner Pleiades Shipping is now using SeaProc e-procurement for spares purchasing.
This required a connection between SeaProc and Pleiades Shipping’s fleet management system, which was supplied by ABS Nautical Systems.
Pleiades Shipping runs a fleet of 14 Panamax and Aframax crude tankers and chemical/product carriers. These operate along worldwide trading routes, primarily between North and South America, the Caribbean and south east Asia.
App alerts when spares run low
ShipSure, an app version of V.Group’s Shipsure program, was launched in January this year and provides critical spares alerts, allowing clients to easily see when they need to order new parts.
The ShipSure app offers shipowners control, transparency and real-time information. It allows customers to check whether planned maintenance is overdue and to request copies of test certificates. It can also generate spares alerts or compare budgeted running costs against real costs and generate PDF invoices for procurement.
It uses GPS to monitor factors such as fuel consumption, sailing speed and conditions at sea to deliver data in real time. Preference settings allow users to decide how much information they receive. They can also use in-built messaging systems to request additional data.
V.Group said ShipSure is “for anyone involved in the safe and efficient running of a commercial vessel”, from shipowners to captains, crew, and onshore management teams. As well as the app, which is available on both Android and iOS, it can be accessed via a traditional desktop piece of software.