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The Naval Architect: March 2017AVEVA TabletCAD (small)

First held in 2000, COMPIT has established itself as a key conference in information technology (IT) for the maritime industries, bringing together software developers and users. Most participants come from industry, reflecting the practical relevance of the event.

 

Selected papers for the upcoming COMPIT are discussed below, illustrating general trends in IT for the maritime industries. In short, the main trends are:

  • Integrated design environments: Standalone solutions for simulation-based design give way to integrated solutions. “Simulation centres” handle data import, smart and user-friendly model generation and intuitive result display for design decisions. 
  • Shipyard 4.0: Yards get smart, too. The Internet of Things (IoT) and smart decision support systems play a key role here.
  • Virtual Reality spreads: We have to thank our kids – the video game industry has provided cost-effective software and hardware solutions for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). From training to hull inspection, from preparing nautical officers to shopfloor support in shipyards. VR and AR have arrived in our industry and are flourishing.

 

COMPIT covers three full days, each with four sessions:

  • Day 1: Layout Design, Design Frameworks, Integrated Simulation-based Design,
    and Smart Yards
  • Day 2: Autonomy I & II, Smart Wireless Ships, and Virtual & Augmented
  • Day 3: Big Data as Game Changer, Smart Ship Operation, Routing 2.0,
    and Smart Communication

It is difficult to pick favourites. Best have a look at the complete program and pick your own
winner(s).

 

Best-of-breed solutions
Despite numerous attempts, there is no single monolithic software program that is optimal for all tasks. However, design frameworks or simulation centres evolve. These house dedicated software codes reside in a larger framework with a common “same look and feel” user interface. The integration may be “hardwired” for a single vendor, but it may also, via a common integration surface calling different codes from different vendors, support the popular “best of breed” approach in design software. Data exchange in such frameworks is largely or fully automated, reducing both training time and project time. The framework trend is demonstrated in a variety of papers by several well-known vendors, many coming from joint industry projects.

 

Pawling & Andrews (UCL) point out the trend towards “Expanding the Scope of Early Stage Computer Aided Ship Design”. Design, particularly for complex ship types, increasingly incorporates a wider range of aspects than straightforward numerical performance analyses. A whole session is dedicated to layout design, using an inside-out approach known as “Design Building Block”, where UCL, TU Delft and the University of Michigan have evolved as key technology drivers. Pawling & Andrews also look into some interesting new developments, adapting techniques from other industries for the benefit of ship design. One example is “real options theory”, a technique from financial market assessment that can be used for handling uncertainty in complex scenarios.

 

Mergers and alliances lead to consolidation in the software market and support the development of larger and more comprehensive design environments. The acquisition of CD-Adapco (CFD) and LMS (noise & vibration, fatigue strength and kinematics) by Siemens is a classic example of the general trend. Bundling assorted simulation competence under the Siemens umbrella is likely to lead to a new super-heavyweight in the maritime software market. Radosavljevic and Cardoen (Siemens) describe Siemens PLM Software’s new solution for cross domain and multi-physics simulation in “Simcenter - Enabling Predictive Engineering Analytics”, giving assorted simulation and optimisation applications.

 

Korbetis et al. (BETA CAE Systems) present “EPILYSIS - A New Solver for Finite Element Analysis”, which streamlines the processes further in CAE workflow of structural analyses. The paper illustrates how the focus in mature simulation techniques (strength and vibration, stability and CFD) lies increasingly on reducing time spent on model generation and data transfer between different software interfaces. The quest is not for new applications per se, but rather for new users, shifting simulations from dedicated simulation experts to the designer. The key is then making the software user-friendly and affordable. The solution is not rocket science, but common good engineering sense: re-use models wherever possible; offer macros for frequently performed operations; make the user interface more graphical and intuitive.

 

Grümmer et al. (aXatlantic, Friendship Systems, TU Berlin) are nicely ‘cross domain’ with their “Optimization of a Self-Righting Hull Design and Thruster Unit for an Autonomous Surface Vehicle”. The project uses the design framework CAESES for hull generation and optimisation process management with MAXSURF Stability for volume and stability calculations to maximise the stability of a solar-powered, self-righting drone. The aXatlantic project aims for a world record with the first solar-powered and autonomous ocean crossing. This brings us to a theme that dominates the central day of COMPIT 2017: Autonomous ship technology.

 

Autonomy now – or maybe later?
Autonomous, smart, unmanned – no shortage of buzzwords for a brave new world of ships and ship operation. But what is educated prediction and what is a marketing pipe dream? Media and public discussion are uncannily attracted to the latter. Autonomous means independent – systems perform some tasks independently that so far have been performed by humans. There are various levels of autonomy, e.g. independently coming up with a suggested path for collision avoidance is a lower level than independently performing the collision avoidance manoeuvre. Smart usually indicates large amounts of (sensor) data being processed typically with some local processing intelligence. Unmanned means no crew onboard, but could refer to a remotely controlled ship.

 

A key task in more or less autonomous navigation is path planning and execution of collision avoidance manoeuvres. The first field tests and commercial decision support systems date back to the 1990s, but work continues on higher autonomy, refined algorithms and preparation for an era where unmanned (and highly autonomous) ships may operate side by side in congested traffic with manned (and more or less autonomous/automated) ships – think fleets of Google cars mixing with many ‘conventional’ drivers in tomorrow’s traffic on our streets. This era may come faster than some of us think. Various groups around the world are working on it. Daltry & Tripp (ASV Global) present “The Path to Real World Autonomy for ASVs”, using a hierarchy of autonomous systems to plan collision avoidance efficiently and (hopefully) safely. Mediavilla et al. (Lloyd’s Register, Rolls-Royce, et al.) work on the “MAXCMAS Project – Autonomous COLREGS Compliant Navigation”. The MAXCMAS (MAchine eXecutable Collision regulations for Marine Autonomous Systems) project is developing a COLREGs compliant path planner for autonomous vessel guidance and control. The explicit and deterministic rules of the collision avoidance rules (COLREGs) are the easy part, but some COLREGs involve personal judgment, e.g. when to initiate emergency collision avoidance when the counterpart does not give way. Then rules for an expert system can be determined by observing human experts in similar situations, typically employing nautical simulators. Again, we see the power of combining advanced IT techniques (simulation, Augmented Reality, autonomous/robotic technology and Artificial Intelligence in this case). Totem Plus in Israel already offers a commercial collision avoidance system for unmanned ships without radio contact, as described in Rahav & Levy’s “Totem Autonomous Navigation System”.

 

Key technologies for future ship operation - whether smart, autonomous or unmanned - are Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT). Mary Etienne (Dell EMC) sees “IoT: Maritime’s Next Wave” already transforming the maritime industries from design to operation. As sensors become smaller, more robust and cheaper to acquire, we predict that they will be ‘everywhere’, in the hull, main engine, and auxiliary machinery and even small equipment items, gathering and collecting data for analysis. Whether ships and the equipment on them are operated locally or by remote control, operational decisions will be data-driven. Patrick Müller’s (Siemens) “Marine 4.0: Condition Monitoring for the Future” illustrates the role of IoT and Big Data for the case of engine maintenance, seeing major cost savings in adopting the technologies.

 

However, Big Data and IoT require connected wireless IT systems. And these come with increased cyber risks. Patterson & Barton (Babcock) look in “Secure Wireless Options in the Smart Ship” at cyber-security. The paper assesses personal and local area wireless communication technologies, particularly with respect to their potential utility in ships. They recommend operational and design considerations to limit exposure to threats.

 

A different VR game!
“Virtual Reality (VR) has gone from being science fiction, to being realised in the research lab, to being treated as a toy, to being used in practical applications, including shipbuilding,” says Denis Morais (CTO of major ship CAD vendor SSI). SSI’s state-of-the art description “The Evolution of Virtual Reality in Shipbuilding” gives a perfect introduction to the topic. It also predicts the future of VR by analysing the forces that have either hindered or promoted the implementation of virtual reality in ship design and construction. The diversity of applications is as fascinating as the level of realism achieved by CGI (computer generated imagery). Bertram & Plowman (DNV GL) review “Maritime Training in the 21st Century”, envisaging increasingly digital maritime training. As an example, they describe a VR-based training tool for ship surveying where trainees can practice finding various deficiencies simulated in the virtual environment. Cabos & Wolf (DNV GL) also see VR playing a key role in actual surveys of the future. Upcoming inspection techniques such as drones and self-localising cameras potentially enable the full visual mapping of a tank’s condition on a 3D ship model. Their paper “Virtual Reality Aided Remote Hull Inspection” explores the extent to which this could allow structural condition assessment to be performed remotely.

 

Sounds like science fiction? Maybe, but the future has already started. Helle et al. (University of Turku) give an overview of “Virtual and Augmented Reality Solutions to Industrial Applications” in Finland. Virtual reality is the complete modelling of virtual worlds in the computer, while augmented reality (AR) overlays computer information on real-world views (think Pokémon Go). While some industrial solutions have already been adopted, attitudes towards the new tools vary widely in the industry as the authors found in user interviews. Procee (NHL Hogeschool) gives us a glimpse of Captain Picard on future ships in “Effect of Augmented Reality on Human Performance in a Ship’s Bridge Simulator”. In his studies, AR helps the navigator in detecting dangerous targets by the overlay of a synthetic image, thus providing a visual cue over the real world outside the bridge window. A head mounted display is used to project the augmented image. The prototype system was tested in the controlled environment of a nautical simulator. The paper presents the first results of a larger program of empirical tests into the usability of AR in ships navigation.

 

The conference promises to be a highlight in this year’s calendar for anyone interested in how IT is transforming the maritime industries. Get smart, join it and connect. For more information, visit www.compit.info

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