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Tug Technology & Business

Tug Technology & Business

Five technologies to change tug operations forever

Thu 18 Jan 2018 by Martyn Wingrove

Five technologies to change tug operations forever
Wärtsilä predicts a future of smart marine ecosystems around ports

Editor Martyn Wingrove examines the top five emerging technologies that he considers will affect tug construction and operations in the long term

Technology continues to change the tugboat industry, usually for the better, but up to now it has been on the mechanical side. This is all changing as IT-related technologies are emerging that should have positive impacts on the sector.

Here are the top five emerging technology trends that will have a major influence on the towage industry in the long term. These should generate operational benefits to tug owners, designers and builders in the future.


Airborne drones could be used in tugboat operations for survey and remote movement of equipment. Tug operator Kotug plans to become the first company to use drone technology to assist in towage operations. It has applied for a patent to use them to assist in ship handling operations and expects this will lead to safer and more efficient working conditions.

Kotug will test remote-controlled flying devices to connect a towline to an assisted vessel. Drones will deliver a messenger line to a predetermined location through the use of object recognition software. The tug’s messenger line would then be brought to the assisted ship in a controlled process and the crew on the assisted ship would heave in the mooring line itself.

This would enable the tug to sail safely beside the assisted ship instead of having to enter a dangerous zone in front of that vessel. Kotug intends to develop standard operating procedures for using drones and will run a series of tests in 2018.

Drones can also be used in salvage projects as they can be flown over maritime casualties to survey the damage and for identifying and tracking oil spillages and other pollution from maritime accidents.

Sensors can be installed on a drone to record other parameters of a spillage or of a maritime casualty that could be useful for clean-up and salvage operations. For example, these could test for gas emissions or sense a casualty’s temperature before salvors move in. Larger drones could be equipped with chemical sprays for dispersing oil spillages.


3D printing

Manufacturing companies are developing more advanced 3D printing techniques that will produce propellers and machinery that could be deployed on tugs. A future involving 3D-printed components moved a step closer to reality in Q4 2017 when a prototype propeller was completed by Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Lab (RAMLAB).

It worked in collaboration with Damen Shipyards Group, Promarin, Autodesk and Bureau Veritas to develop a WAAMpeller, a 1,350 mm diameter propeller. This was fabricated from a nickel aluminium bronze alloy at RAMLAB using the wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) method, based on a Valk welding system and Autodesk software.

The triple-blade structure used a Promarin design that is fitted to Damen’s Stan Tug 1606 design. After its production was completed, it was milled at Autodesk’s advanced manufacturing facility in Birmingham, UK, using machines with computer numerical control.

3D-printed items are built up layer by layer, which means almost any object can be produced. But the material will have different physical properties from similar objects manufactured from steel or cast materials, which is why class society Bureau Veritas has tested the properties of printed material to ensure its compliance.

This first prototype WAAMpeller will be used for display purposes and planning for a second example is already underway for production this year. It should not be long before a WAAMpeller, or one similar to it, is installed on a tug.

Another Dutch additive manufacturing company, Connecting Engineering and Design (CEAD), is preparing to produce maritime products using a new continuous fibre additive manufacturing (CFAM) machine. This industrial-scale unit will be able to print with engineering plastics and continuous carbon fibre composites to produce objects and equipment for shipbuilding, yachts and workboats.

CEAD expects the first CFAM prototype will be ready by the middle of this year. It will be installed in the offices of Poly Products, which produces composite products for the maritime industry. Poly Products plans to use this printer to fabricate large-scale products and prototypes and then seek customer feedback.

CEAD has also ordered a second CFAM 3D printer to be deployed in 2019 at the premises of marine engineering company Royal Roos. This has been designed for manufacturing marine products from composite materials.

Huisman has gone a stage further and tested the world’s first 3D printed offshore crane hook. This was manufactured through WAAM 3D printing in 2017 and was successfully load-tested to 80 tonnes in the first week of this year.

WAAM printing produced components with high grade tensile steel, including a large 4-prong hook with a weight of around 1,000 kg. Huisman plans to manufacture other components with complex shapes using a WAAM 3D printer. It said the costs are similar to steel forgings and castings but the delivery time is shorter. Huisman intends to increase the manufacturing capabilities up to items of 2,500 kg printed weight.


Augmented reality

AR is being developed for maritime applications and has been demonstrated on ship bridges and remote operating centres to deliver different levels of information to end-users. Although tugboat wheelhouses are smaller than commercial shipping, AR could have applications to improve situation awareness for tug masters.

Information can be delivered through projections on bridge windows, perhaps to provide accurate distance to an assisted ship and other hazards. Or this information could be displayed using specially-designed spectacles.

Rolls-Royce is using AR technology in its remote operating centre demonstrator in Svitzer’s offices in Copenhagen, Denmark. This involves presenting additional information on the route that the tug is heading and about the nearby hazards.

Another application for AR is in training simulators. It can be combined with virtual reality and 3D visual technology to improve the simulation of real-life events. Transas already has 3D visuals in its tug training simulator and Videotel is developing virtual reality for training ship engineers.

Offshore Simulator Centre (OSC) has demonstrated how simulation can be enhanced through AR at its facilities in Ålesund, Norway, which Tug Technology & Business visited in November 2017. AR tools can also be used for providing real-time analysis to towage operations and advice to vessel operators.

At that time, OSC chief executive Joel Mills said AR extends the boundaries of simulation so that users can monitoring live operations remotely and provide advice on complex operations. “The realm of augmented tools take us in new directions and open more doors to give operators advantages over real life,” he said. For example, AR tools could indicate stresses on lifting and mooring lines.


Smart marine ecosystems

Port operations are becoming more integrated, with tug operations being further interconnected with ship arrivals and departures and quayside activities. In the future this will become more advanced as smart ecosystems are introduced.

This involves more automatic management of tugs and pilots to become better optimised to the requirements of ship escort and manoeuvring in ports. Tugs will be positioned in advance of ship arrivals, which will be timed for the period when quayside facilities are available. It will mean tugs will be increasingly integrated with terminal and port operations.

Wärtsilä Marine Solutions revealed its own smart marine ecosystem vision in November 2017. It intends to orchestrate developments in e-navigation, ship and port optimisation, industry digitalisation and vessel remote management to bring this vision into reality.

At the launch event, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions president Roger Holm said harnessing this technology would lead to operational benefits to all shipping. He expects the opportunities offered through smart technology “will foster a new era of collaboration and knowledge sharing with shipowners, suppliers and partners.”

This will involve elements of ship-to-port communications, real-time system monitoring, intelligent navigation, smart ports and vessel remote control. Mr Holm expects smart ports will result in smoother and faster port operations.

Wärtsilä Marine Solutions director for strategy and business development Mauro Sacchi said at the seminar that the route to smart marine ecosystems would also include the opening of digital acceleration centres, such as the ones opened in 2017 in Helsinki, Finland and in Singapore. Wärtsilä plans to open more digital acceleration centres in 2018, one in Central Europe and the other in North America.

One example of how a smart marine ecosystem could operate, albeit at a lower-level of automatic management, is how Panama Canal Authority is optimising tug operations through a new planning and resource management platform. This was developed by Quintiq and brought online in 2017 (Tug Technology & Business, Q3 2017).

Panama Canal Authority uses this to improve the management of its existing tug fleet and scheduling of shipments through the expanded canal. It has seen reductions in ship waiting times, better management of ship transits and of its towage assets, pilots and line handlers.


Industrial IoT 

Internet of things (IoT) is making inroads into commercial shipping for predicting failure of machinery and tracking containers. This has the potential to be extended into tugs and towage operations for condition monitoring, machinery tracking and optimised maintenance. There could be more accurate tracking of tugs and barge cargo as part of smart ports in the future.

This is all enabled when sensors and machine-to-machine communications is deployed on tug systems. Various parameters can be measured and data transmitted to a central storage server for analysis. Tug operators can use this data to produce machinery performance and condition information and predict failures.

Caterpillar Marine’s asset intelligence branch has developed methods of doing this analysis from its own onboard machinery. Caterpillar asset intelligence business development manager Bert Ritscher expects operators of harbour tugs could save more than US$230,000 in annual operating expenditure by using this analysis to “prevent equipment failures, reduce fuel costs and optimise maintenance.”

He explained at a seminar in Rotterdam in November that analysis of data enables Caterpillar to identify issues, such as fuel leakages or fuel pump problems, and identify the root causes of machinery problems.

“We can avoid catastrophic engine breakdowns and safety issues,” he said, adding that “crew need to trust in this data analytics and act on advice” for example to replace pumps before failure.

Continued development of IoT technology using deep learning computers and high-volume data analytics on shore will deliver greater benefits for tug operators in 2018.

There is also potential to improve cargo towage and ‘pushing’ in coastal and inland waterways through enhanced tracking. Tug operations could be optimised if cargo owners can track their assets, such as containers, through IoT.

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