The age of innovation enters the global ferry sector

Innovations in design and technology promise to bring new possibilities to ferry design and operation. Michele Witthaus finds out what will be the biggest game changers for the ferry sector in the next few years

The age of innovation enters the global ferry sector
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review.

From better fuel options and efficiency-boosting design tweaks to breakthroughs in propulsion technology and even the potential to operate ships from dry land, there are plenty of new ideas in the ferry sector for those who are able to take advantage of them.

The biggest game-changer for the ferry sector is ship intelligence, says Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce. “Our ship intelligence work will make big improvements to the safety and efficiency of ferries. The tools to do that are situational awareness, smart navigation and enhanced optimisation. That will open up other possibilities such as having remote control or automatic operation.” While unmanned navigation is not yet really practical for large ships with thousands of passengers, Levander notes: “There are unmanned cargo vessels in development and we are developing the same technology to be used onboard passenger vessels alongside existing crew. It involves reading the situation, using conventional radar and AIS, but also introducing close proximity radar and high-definition infrared cameras. These vessels will have the software to use all the sensors and information they give to create total awareness of what’s happening on the vessel and give highlights to the crew of anything they should observe, allowing them to take action such as changing course or speed.” He believes that this technology can apply to all ferries with the potential for smaller ferries to become fully automatic.

Another area that has for quite some time been ripe for new developments in the ferry sector, says Levander, is the propulsion side of things: more specifically, more propellers on the vessels. “We will see a propulsion set-up with a centre propeller on the centre line of ship with two pulling thrusters, one on each side, which basically will mean you have three propellers. This will offer better open-water efficiency for the propellers, especially if the centre one is a large area propeller. The pulling thrusters on the side will give the actual manoeuvring.” There are other propulsion combinations available too, such as CRP and triple shaft lines.

Ferry owners and operators are set to benefit from a range of new energy saving and environmental technologies, says Päivi Haikkola, head of research and development at Deltamarin. “The prevailing technologies will also become more scattered as operators will go for technologies that are available and/or supported within their operation areas.”

One of the company’s designs, the DeltaChallenger, is a non-commercial cooperative project between five companies to demonstrate how proven technologies could be used onboard ferries. Haikkola remarks: “These technologies can be easily applied to ferries and they can provide substantial operational savings.” One example of the new features is a method of loading and unloading cars that efficiently shortens the harbour stay, thus enabling savings during sailing. Referring to the collaborative nature of the project, she says: “I believe it is the way development projects will be run in the future even in the shipping industry.”

Another project, DeltaLinx, has been developed as a ready-to-apply design that uses existing technologies and integrates them into the smallest possible package, says Grzegorz Mazerski, head of R&D at Deltamarin’s daughter company in Poland. “A large LNG tank below the car deck is designed for weekly refuelling – this means that it can operate on routes without existing refuelling capacities and refill the LNG tank outside the route during the weekend when the schedule is more relaxed.

“Its compact main dimensions and efficient manoeuvring equipment (rudders and bow thruster) enable operations in small ports and congested harbours.” Multifunctional passenger spaces, unobstructed trailer/car decks and a high level of safety make it suitable for international voyages.

So much for blue-sky thinking: for Dutch operator TESO, dreams have become reality in the form of a new ferry service that incorporates a dizzying array of new concepts. The company’s Texelstroom vessel will serve the Dutch island of Texel and Den Helder from summer 2016. “TESO believes that it is important to find a proper balance between environment and transport interests,” says managing director Cees de Waal. He believes that the hybrid vessel will enable the company to become a sustainable ferry operator thanks to its intelligent energy management system that combines compressed natural gas (CNG)-driven engines (DF), solar energy (150 kWh), lithium ion batteries (1,6 Mw), green shorepower, heat recovery and other sustainability measures.

An unusual feature of TESO is that most of its 3,129 shareholders are Texel residents, says De Waal. “This vessel will be in service until 2040, sailing on a daily basis in the beautiful but vulnerable Wadden Sea world heritage. As our company is owned by the people living on the island we do feel the responsibility to preserve the natural richness in our area, which attracts tourists and is in fact the main source of income for the island community.

“This means that we challenged ourselves to reach the best possible design in terms of environmental as well as economical aspects.”

Customisation will be a major game changer in the next few years for the ferry sector, says Patrick Janssens of Shipyard De Hoop. “We believe that there will be less ‘ferries’ in the traditional meaning of the word (diesel engine, cars + passengers, going from A to B). We are experiencing more and more inquiries for dedicated specialised ships to carry people, often combining it with other features. We see in general a strong tendency for all ships to have a higher grade of customisation, with a focus to keep the OPEX low and tailor them to their jobs.”

Janssens explains: “Often such vessels combine various functions – for example, inland day passenger ships which are also laid out for events or theatre; or offshore ships with specialised gangway systems for safe crew transfer at sea.” Janssens says lessons learned from work on cruise vessels are increasingly applied to ferries and mixed-use vessels to optimise the passenger experience.

He points out that customisation does not necessarily imply higher cost. “My advice would be to carefully calculate and weigh the options of a standard design (or even an existing ferry) with a custom newbuild. When looking integrally and being honest about the total cost of ownership, the latter is often the vessel which gives you the better earnings.”

The shipyard recently designed a hybrid propulsion system combining the benefits of a diesel direct and a diesel electric system for a fast supply intervention vessel, achieving 45% fuel savings in comparison to the ‘best of the rest’, says Janssens.

Innovation is also transforming operations where ferries meet the quayside, says Björn Rosén, vice president, sales & projects for equipment manufacturer TTS Marine AB, which delivered 600m of innovative passenger gangways for Stockholm’s Värtahamnen terminal.

He says there is a trend towards efficiency being optimised and proven at the design phase of equipment, “via vehicle driving simulations onboard, at linkspan and at quay, to determine the required onboard and port access equipment improving loading and unloading operations”. He also points to innovative and tailored ship and port interface solutions as part of the drive to the consolidation of routes to efficient hubs with optimised turnaround time.

Rosén says TTS is improving the equipment it supplies through “wider driveways, faster operation and flow analysis. As we can deliver the complete chain from inside the ship, external ramps, land-based ramps and gangways, and perform driving simulations and berth-fit analysis, we can make sure bottlenecks are avoided.” User friendly interfaces with touch screens also make operation simple and safer.

“Our business is built on the definition of innovation,” says Finn Wollesen Petersen, managing director of naval architecture and design firm Knud E Hansen. “Our goal is to find the ideal solution for every project that we undertake and if there isn’t a solution that meets the brief then we advise the client accordingly. Industry trends and external influences often drive the innovation agenda: for example, when oil prices are high we get a lot of energy optimisation projects; when new legislation is adopted we’ll get compliance jobs; or when a route isn’t performing, feasibility work will follow. In every case innovation is a common theme – not necessarily reinventing proven practices but certainly delivering the optimal solution for our clients.”

When Stena Line decided to relocate Stena Superfast VII and VIII to serve new routes, Knud E Hansen researched the planned routes for the company. “The study determined that they had special requirements that could not be provided by these ships,” explains Petersen. “A full feasibility study was conducted and a number of significant modifications recommended, including increasing the free height on the upper ro-ro deck, increasing the passenger capacity to 1,200 and converting the cabin deck on level 8 to a public area. These modifications were made and the ships are now effectively serving their new routes.”

It’s clear that investment in innovative solutions can be justified when there is a proven need or a specific problem to be overcome – but anything beyond that can be a challenge to sell to hard-pressed operators. “For many operators, managing a ferry fleet has become a marginal business, says Simon Johnson, president of Carus Ferry and Carus Executive Consulting. “The cost base continues to increase through higher fuel prices and staffing, expensive fleet renewal programmes, new legislation and other factors.”

Carus takes these realities into account in its end-to-end technology solution for ferry operators, says Johnson. “Our consulting team focuses on efficiency in ferry operations, with value and profitability for the client being the controlling factors.”

Carus delivered the booking, ticketing, departure control and attendant administrative functions for the Alaska Marine Highway System. “It’s a very complex operation in terms of the route network and the remoteness of some of the terminals,” says Johnson “The delivery of this system will give confidence to many other operators who are currently seeking to benefit from the significant system enhancements that technology can now provide but have been reluctant due to complexity issues.”

Given the range and number of new solutions being proposed, tested and implemented, the next few years promise to hold some interesting developments for the ferry sector and all those associated with it.

Share this story

Michele Witthaus
By Michele Witthaus
Wednesday, March 30, 2016