Innovation through cooperation

For many maritime companies, cooperation with an external party is a perfect way to develop innovative products and ideas. By forming symbiotic relationships, both companies can concentrate on their core businesses while drawing on the expertise of the other. The new branches of knowledge that are formed advance the progress of technology in the maritime sector. This article takes a closer look at the innovations originating from two such cooperative partnerships. The first is between naval architectural and engineering company C-Job and software design house NAPA, and the second is between automation specialist Bachmann Electronic and closed-loop control specialist Controllab.

C-Job first started working with NAPA in 2009. In the last decade the two companies have worked on various projects together, one of the most notable being Accelerated Concept Design. This is a design optimisation method that automatically checks the operational feasibility of multiple design variations during the initial stages of the ship design (the concept design stage). Accelerated Concept Design uses genetic and steered algorithms to create progressive generations of designs, each more efficient than the previous generation. It is a technique that can be modified depending on the function of the vessel in question. “Cargo capacity and fuel consumption are important for a container vessel, and bollard pull and manoeuvrability are key aspects of tug design,” says Thijs Muller, lead research & development at C-Job Naval Architects. “You can change the parameters to fit the project requirements. They can be fixed parameters such as a payload or deadweight. Or they can be variable like the length of the vessel. A key point, however, is that we can generate concept designs within shorter time spans and evaluate a larger design space.”

Win-win situation

“With traditional methods the outcome of ship design is typically based on past experience,” explains Jan Furustam, sales director at NAPA. “Therefore improvements based on this learning-from-the-past method is a step-by-step process.

Accelerated Concept Design not only reduces lead-time, but makes it possible for the designer to evaluate a vastly larger design space – with combinations of design parameters – compared to traditional ways of working. This significantly increases the efficiency in terms of economics, safety and environmental parameters and results in better and more efficient ship designs.

“There are new possibilities arising every day for using computational power in ship design – bringing trends such as big data, AI and optimisation software to the maritime industry,” adds Furustam. “For us as a software product company, C-Job is a perfect match to develop and market a software solution with them. This optimisation-driven design using multi-objective genetic algorithms has been around for decades, but this has always been at an academic level. Accelerated Concept Design is turning this into a really practical tool in ship design. Therefore it is a win-win situation for both of us. We get to evaluate and develop our software, and they get to use new tools to increase the efficiency of their process.”

In addition to generating designs in a shorter period of time, Accelerated Concept Design has the potential to reduce a vessel’s capital expenses (largely defined by its weight) and operational expenses (determined by its operational efficiency). Muller continues: “This cooperative research with NAPA allows for radical innovations leading to reducing total cost of ownership while removing uncertainty from the whole ship design and construction process – giving our clients confidence in the ship and reducing the risks.”

Trailer suction hopper dredger designed by C-Job

C-Job Design Circle: Accelerated

Concept Design is a modular flexible

platform, where the naval architect can

select on which aspects the design is

simultaneously evaluated, with different

levels of detail.

Because the software behind Accelerated Concept Design executes the repetitive and labour-intensive tasks, this frees up more time of the naval architect to concentrate on the innovative and creative aspects of ship design. Take this idea a step further and it can point the designer into a certain design direction where improvements can be found. “It can serve as an inspiration to consider more ‘out-of-the-box’ designs – ones that may perform better than the original idea,” concludes Muller.

Digital twins

The second example of cooperation leading to innovation involves Bachmann Electronic and Controllab. The two companies have worked together since 2011 and made the decision to seal to technical partnership in 2014. “This was simply a letter from the management – there was no formal agreement because a signature is enough. Trust is the basis of this relationship,” states Ronald Epskamp manager business unit maritime at Bachmann. “In this way, we work independently from each other while still completing some very exciting projects together, contributing to the development and application of technology in the maritime sector. It is a very nice way of working.”

The foundation of this particular cooperative relationship is the way Bachmann’s PLC control systems work with Controllab’s 20-sim software.

This software works as a simulation package for dynamic systems including electrical, mechanical or hydraulic parts or combinations of these. Controllab CEO Christian Kleijn gives the details: “A Bachmann controller in the propulsion system of a ship, for example, sends back a lot of data. Our software uses these data to create a ‘digital twin’, a digital version of this system.”

Hardware in the loop

One important advantage of the digital twin is the fact that it allows testing in a simulated environment, also known as Hardware-In-the-Loop. “HIL testing is the ideal way to let all sorts of things go wrong with the system without hazarding the people involved in the real system,” explains Controllab CTO Paul Weustink. “Our work with cranes or offshore access gangways are good examples of this. HIL testing allows us to test a lot of different scenarios in a short amount of time.”

HIL testing is also relevant when talking about destructive testing, which is both expensive and associated with the all too real issue of safety. To this end Controllab can carry out up to 200 destructive tests per day at their in-house HIL facilities.

The cooperation with Bachmann enabled Controllab to apply its digital twin technology for the offshore access gangway of SMST.

The concept of the digital twin can also be used during the operational phase of a dynamic system. “This could be if a shipping company wants to see how its fleet is performing over a long period. Or it could be more short-term, using real system data in a simulation to investigate how that system can operate more efficiently. We can carry out this process within a matter of hours.”

Technical solutions

Bachmann’s relationship with Controllab demonstrates how two independent companies can work together, but still keep focused on their core businesses.

“We can concentrate on providing the most stable and up-to-date framework with the newest multicore processors to enable powerful real-time performance,” says Joeri ten Napel key account manager maritime at Bachmann. “And Controllab’s knowledge allows them to support their clients’ specific applications. When we work together, their insight into our products is really worthwhile for our shared clients. It also means that we can help our clients much quicker – we have much more traction together. We can quickly translate our clients’ vision into an applicable technical solution.”

Tom Scott

Scrubber innovations

In March 2019, Magnesium Producers NEDMAG and TIMAB MAGNESIUM announced a strategic partnership to development and market the use of magnesium hydroxide in marine scrubber systems. The product that the two companies developed, called MH53S MARE, aims to offer vessel owners, operators and crews a safe and cost effective alkali source for their scrubber operations. NEDMAG sales manager Henk van den Berg discusses the benefits of this cooperative partnership in which TIMAB MAGNESIUM handles the distribution to the maritime industry, and NEDMAG supports the development of this environmentally friendly solution from a technical point of view.

What were the motivations for NEDMAG to work with TIMAB MAGNESIUM?

This relates to the sales force and global supply chain. To ensure worldwide availability of MH53S MARE, it is important to use distribution channels already set up and to develop smart logistic solutions for new prospects.

What is the result of this cooperative relationship?

A lot of activities have been initiated since the cooperation between NEDMAG and TIMAB MAGNESIUM became effective. Intensive contacts with the main shipping lines, engineering companies, etc. have resulted in several projects to convert to MH53S MARE and to optimise the use of this new alkali source.

How does this fit in to scrubber operations?

MH53S MARE is a stable suspension with a different rheology compared to traditional alkalis such as caustic soda. To make the use of MH53S MARE a success, it is important to understand the specific properties of this product. By installing the right type of pump and recirculation circuit, it is proven that the use of MH53S MARE reduces the operational costs significantly. Furthermore, MH53S MARE is a non-hazardous material, which contributes positively to crew safety.

What is the impact of your cooperative relationship on the maritime market?

After several years of successful use of MH53S MARE on board several vessels, NEDMAG and TIMAB MAGNESIUM are proud to bring this solution to the industry on a global scale. By combining their strengths, the two partners aim at improving further technical support as well as optimising supply chain options available to every single vessel operator, all over the world. Moreover, production capacity at Nedmag has already been doubled in 2018, with an additional expansion planned to support the industry’s growing demand.