Monday, July 20, 2020

Modular Construction of Vessels Could Save Money in the Long Term

EU Funds Fourteen Partners Work Toward Cost and Pollution Savings
Shipping News Feature

NORWAY – EUROPE – The TrAM project is yet another of those experimental environmental setups tasked with bringing transport systems back from the future to the present day. Funded by the EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme the 14 participants are working together to develop a zero-emission fast going passenger vessel through advanced modular production.

The fourteen partners range across a whole plethora of industries and experiences, from technology groups to universities, but at the hub of this project is the concept that, as with motor vehicles and buildings, modular construction can offer a range of benefits to a variety of vessel types.

One of the partners is the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechatronic Systems Design IEM whose modular experts Tobias Seidenberg and Christoph Jürgenhake say that trying to change the industry’s perception of modular and more standardised vessels has been their biggest challenge. Tobias Seidenberg comments:

“Today ships are most often designed as a one-off, even though many of them are built according to almost exactly the same specifications. We are examining the opportunities for creating modules that can be reused across application cases. By combining advanced modular production principles with ship design and construction methods, the TrAM project will develop a more efficient modular system integration than the currently favoured function orientated modularity systems.”

In addition to developing and building a zero-emission demonstrator fast ferry, the TrAM project aims to develop these first ever modular design and production methods for such vessels. The project is revolutionary both in terms of zero emission technology and manufacturing methods, and is intended to contribute to making electric-powered high-speed vessels competitive in terms of both monetary and environmental costs.

Fraunhofer IEM is all about challenging conventional designs and attitudes and the German institute has worked on modular architectures for cars for major customers such as the Volkswagen Group, and leads TrAM’s work on adapting modularity models from the automotive and aviation industry to the needs of the maritime industry.

The proposed modular concept will be validated and refined through one physical demonstrator and two replicators. The demonstrator will be a zero-emissions passenger ferry that will service a multi-stop commuter route into the Norwegian city of Stavanger from January 2022. The replicators will be developed for the rivers and channels in London and Belgium.

Modularisation is often explained as using the ‘Lego principle’ in design and construction and Fraunhofer’s functional first approach is noticeably different from that of the traditional mechanical designer, as Jürgenhake explains.

“While a mechanical designer normally has a geometrical point of view and starts with the shape, we start with a functional point of view – asking where we can imbed which functions. Then we try to identify which functions belong together, before deriving some sort of shape from that.

“In essence, the project is about how to build the same ship for different purposes, creating one ship family for three different routes. Our goal is to develop a modularisation methodology that allows all three vessels to have the same systems and interfaces inside the hull and the same rough structures, maybe with a partly different hull shape for each vessel.”

Discussions with another partner, the Strathclyde University in Scotland, got the team thinking about modularising different sections of the hull, allowing the hull to be more easily adapted to each use case. This extrapolates to making the complete inside and the interfaces of the vessel in easily adaptable modules. One proposal included a modular bridge arrangement as it became obvious there was no point in three differently designed bridges.

Now the team are working on a bridge module that can be equipped completely by the supplier and adapted to each use case. They say this is a huge benefit for the shipbuilder, allowing plug and play during construction of the next vessels in the family. They also have ideas for a modular power module in which all the batteries and power electronics are stored on the upper level of the vessel instead of inside the hull. Seidenberg says:

“This is an advantage for the future. We know that battery technology will develop rapidly in the coming years, and to have the power module as an easily accessible unit on top of the vessel will benefit future retrofitting, allowing easier battery replacement or integration of new power sources like fuel cells.”

Much of the final design depends on the end user. In London for example the vessel may well carry commuters all keen to grab a snack on the way to work. The answer is to design a modular refreshment module to be fitted or not as required, the key being to have all the interfaces for cafeteria services planned into the hull, including freshwater supply, energy supply and more so that a bespoke option is available.

The two Fraunhofer IEM designers agree the toughest thing has been convincing the industry that modular design is the way to go. Both believe modularisation can and should change the way ships are ordered, with Jürgenhake saying:

“There is a dominant belief that complete optimisation is the only way to design a ship. This is a result of today’s extremely specified tender processes, which lead to one-off ships due to all the requirements vessel owners include in their tenders.”

The bottom line is another thing which needs considering according to Seidenberg who observes:

“The maritime industry also has a strong focus on initial price. We believe the industry needs to look more at lifetime costs, like the aviation industry does. We are now in the process of validating estimates showing that the lifetime cost of a cheaper, more standardised modular vessel actually can be lower than an individually designed ship operating on the same route. If our numbers are correct, I believe this will be an eye-opener.”

As the demonstrator vessel moves into the detailed design phase, Fraunhofer IEM’s task is to document all their findings. They expect to finish up in September or October and hope to to include some sort of configurator tool, visualising the methodology for the shipbuilder through examples from the three TrAM use cases to show the scope of what can be achieved by modularisation. Construction of the demonstrator vessel will commence in early 2021. The fully electric fast ferry is scheduled to enter commercial operation for Kolumbus in Stavanger on January 1st, 2022.