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Next-generation ships – Naval future under way

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Even for such an ancient business as naval vessels, technology is constantly on the move. Innovations are many, and their scrutiny shows that across the board, be it for military, maintenance, humanitarian, industrial or transport activities, innovation goes the same way.

As the latest Siemens, in June 2013 showed, the number of ongoing evolutions in the art of ship-building is staggering. Naval engineers have their own Sysiphus boulder: constantly raising speed, reliability, seaworthiness, range, surface, fuel efficiency (and stealth, in the case of military ships). Which devices are placed on the platform, matters little. Commercial short-haul transport is not left aside, with Norwegian shipyard Fjellstrand’s ZeroCat. The electric-powered aluminum ferry can transport 120 cars and three times as many passengers across channels, straights and arms. Using Siemens’ battery technology, the ship is able to reload its 800-kW in less than 10 minutes, which is to say far less than the time necessary to unload the ship, turn it around and laden it again. This new motor system will save over 250,000 gallons of diesel-fuel and 3000 tons of carbon every year, for each ship. The real revolution here isn’t the ship itself, although its sleek design and carefully architecture structure do upgrade the fuel efficiency, but the new generation batteries, their capacity and their recharging time. Siemens claims it intends to use this first professional application as a test run, to confirm their intention to place themselves as the only engineering firm capable of replacing the propulsion system on every existing ship with an electric one. Given the size of global coastal navigation, a small revolution may be on the way.

The M Ship company was one of the 2013 nominees, with its M80 Stiletto, a twin M-hull designed for coastal operations. It has already started undergoing tests for the US Navy. The ship is designed to meet-modern day challenges, away from large-scale conventional naval battles, into the realm of what vice-admiral Arthur Cebrowski called “brown water navies”, specialized in coastal surveillance, expeditionary services, and drug-smuggling interceptions. The ship’s M-shaped design has allowed it to break free from the shipbuilder’s eternal dilemma: maximum speeds, induced by increased draught and therefore drag when the ship is loaded. When fully loaded, the Stiletto can brag with a maximum draught of 3 feet, and reach speeds of 50 to 60 knots, which is unheard of for a combat ship. This feat is achieved thanks to the carbon fiber used for the body of the ship, which greatly reduces its weight, while keeping it resilient enough to take rough sea treatment. Most importantly, its special hull uses the bow wave and uses its energy, creating an air cushion under it and making foils or lifting devices – usually used to reduce drag and increase speed – unnecessary.

CNIM, on its side, has designed a new-generation ship designed to provide the heavy maintenance offshore wind farms require. The size of the power generators and the strong forces they are subjected to means that they must be closely monitored and thoroughly maintained. The Windkeeper is using all of CNIM’s latest technology (SWATH hull) to enable a maximum stability up to 3m significant wave height. Wind farms are developing all around shorelines of Europe and America – the only continents that possess both technology and means for such devices. The needs for maintaining those devices are high, flawless seaworthiness and extended availability are therefore crucial. The ship will be so often at sea, that it has integrated waste-management and smoke-treatment devices, enabling teams to work long shifts out at once. Transferring platforms are integrated within the ship, enabling the 20-man team to operate on all types of structures out a sea, in proper safety conditions. Given how new the market is, such maintenance tasks were taken on, until now, by more or less well adapted conventional ships.

Tote, Inc. is currently dealing with the cargo side of naval activities. It is currently finished the assembly of several units, which will raise the standards of the trade. The ship has not increased the capacity of existing ships, as it already gives satisfaction to transporters, and because the current sizes already hit the limit of what harbors and canals can take in. So, making the ships more fuel-efficient fills a double purpose. First of all, it cuts the overall price of naval transport, which consumes large quantities of fuel, the price of which is constantly rising. Until now, fuels ran exclusively one diesel fuel. Multiplying vectors therefore will give the market the flexibility it lacks today. In addition, environmental standards are pressing the industry to reduce the large mark they leave on the ocean routes, be it in the course of their normal operation, or in the sporadic and unfortunate event of an oil leak, which leaves devastating consequences, given the quantities contained. The new Tote cargo runs on last generation gas turbines, giving the ship longer, cleaner runs, with an alternative source.

Every naval sub-sector is under major scrutiny by engineering firms to bring every possible improvement where it is needed. Given that most anything can be tethered to a ship (oil ballasts, cranes, missile-launchers, guns, cargo pits, etc.), those engineering firms concentrate on the purely naval aspects. Reducing draft, drag and fuel consumption, and increasing payloads, fuel efficiency, speed and range, engineers around the world are working hard on those, and seem to be making hay.

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