The maritime world of tomorrow
As the maritime world becomes more and more high-tech, collaborating with the entire ecosystem is crucial to remain competitive. This is not easy though. As Solco puts it, “Collaborating also means sharing knowledge and IP between companies that are not used to working in an open ecosystem.”
“However,” he allows. “I also think that in the industry people are now realising that innovation is gathering speed and we need each other to keep up.”
The increased focus on innovation is, he says, something that has really taken hold in the maritime sectors only in the past few years, whilst other industries have experienced it earlier. There are numerous reasons for this, not least the fact that – relatively speaking – the maritime industry already performs well in terms of sustainability and efficiency. There have been, therefore, less calls to innovate. Our world, however, is changing.
“We see now that more and more parties in and outside of the industry are starting to form partnerships aimed at maritime innovation. Often cooperation is based on the quadruple-helix model – featuring partners from industry, government, research institutes and society at large.”
We see our suppliers, as well as our competitors, becoming increasingly involved in innovation partnerships and this is a clear signal for us that innovation is growing in relevance.
There are, says Marjolein, two main drivers for innovation at the Port of Rotterdam: “We see that the port of the future will be different. We don’t know exactly what it will look like – we will find that out along the way – but we do know that it will be carbon neutral and fully digital.”
To achieve those ends, the port has set up two major teams working on these strategic trends. Within each of these are sub teams, focusing keenly on individual aspects – for example, on renewable energy or autonomous vessels. Innovation is a third strategic focal point; not as a goal in itself, but a crucial enabler.
Going global with big ambitions
Marjolein: “To become the smart port of the future, you need a global perspective. An example is our efforts in the Port Call Optimisation Taskforce. Last year international standards for nautical port information were established. These standards were introduced after a long-term international cooperation between various stakeholder organisations, ports and the business community. While it may not sound particularly exciting, this development is actually a key condition for optimising port calls. Shipping is a global business. Standardisation only makes sense if all information owners share data in their business process. With Pronto, we recently launched a communication platform based on the new standards. If we manage to roll this technology out worldwide we will really get to more efficient and sustainable shipping.”
Seeking sustainable solutions
“We are working on an energy transition that aims at making us carbon neutral by 2050. And we know that the port area’s emissions currently equal 20% of the Netherlands’ total. So, we have a big challenge ahead of us and to meet it we need to collaborate. Actually, with the port uniting so many major players, combined with world class infrastructure and a government that is willing to collaborate, we are actually also in a unique position to make a difference. And that’s exactly why we are taking on a frontrunner role in the energy transition. However, we can decide to be a player, but we need other parties too.”
The port has undertaken two major studies on how it will reach carbon neutrality. One focusing on industry, one on logistics. There’s no definitive answer yet, though hydrogen plays a role in all scenarios. This offers the port guidance in where to invest its resources – and what partners to team up with in order to experiment.
Solco agrees that sustainability does indeed require crossparty cooperation. “We’ve done quite a few projects on sustainable vessels, such as hybrid tugs and LNG carriers and those with LNG propulsion. But to make such projects work, we need government intervention. For example, for a hybrid tug the initial investment is higher than for a regular tug. There are benefits in terms of reduced operational costs, but, understandably, such things can cause clients to question the validity of hybrid propulsion.
“However, where there are government incentives in place to encourage hybrid vessels, we see significant demand – exactly the same as where there are incentives to purchase hybrid cars. In fact, hybrid vessels represent considerably more reduction in emission than cars and yet, currently, such incentive schemes are the exception rather than the norm.”
“Exactly,” Marjolein agrees. “That’s why it’s really important to bring in parties from throughout the chain. As a port we have a unique role in this. Naturally having an extensive and diverse network, we are able to provide the context required to bring people together.
“We have a two-fold approach to this: The Port of Rotterdam takes the lead in defining the trends that are crucial for shaping the port of the future – in terms of digitisation and energy transition. For example, our Carbon Capture & Storage initiative. And we take on the role of ‘context architect’ in the Rotterdam innovation ecosystem, enabling others to contribute and bring in new, relevant developments and trends.
“Rotterdam Logistics Lab is a good example. We organised this as a start-up two years ago. By starting small and encouraging parties to share information they were comfortable sharing we were able to show them that the benefits could also be shared by all in the form of an optimised logistics chain. After two years the lab was incorporated back into the organisation, forming the basis for a new Digital Business Solutions department which has just launched Pronto – a tool optimising port calls by 20%”
“There is also Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Lab (Ram Lab) at the port’s RDM Campus,” says Solco. “Here, Damen has first-hand experience of the port’s ability to facilitate innovation. And here too, we were able to demonstrate the role we have to play in collaborative projects.” Solco is referring to a cooperative project that led to the development of the world’s first 3D-printed, Class approved propeller.
“With this project, Damen was able to bring its influence, knowledge and resources to the table – leading to the successful testing of the propeller aboard a Damen Stan Tug 1606.”
Another trigger, as Marjolein already indicated, is the growing trend towards digitisation. Something which both the Port of Rotterdam and Damen are facing head on.
Both parties are considering the steps towards autonomous vessels, for example. Here, collaboration again emerges as a clear theme. Marjolein: “The technology is already there, so it is clear that autonomous vessels are coming. Whilst we are waiting for an international standard and the required legislation – along with other partners – we have decided to find out what this trend will mean for ourselves. To this end we have set up a ‘Floating Lab’ – a Damen Stan Tender vessel, which different parties are able to book usage of for experimenting and learning together.”
Once more, Solco concurs. “Again, we are playing our part in this, too. We are, for example, working with the port on the Floating Lab on the development and integration of technologies that will lead to full autonomy. This includes automatic coupling of towing lines and object recognition and avoidance amongst other things.”
In this work, we see time and again that everybody bringing their own specialist knowledge to the table makes things happen faster and with better results.
The road ahead
Throughout history innovation has required impetus – not for nothing do we say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. The solution to dealing with the current situation involves bringing people together in order to share their knowledge and ideas with others – especially in a commercially competitive setting. However, as the world – and the maritime industry – adjusts to the dual challenges of increased sustainability and digital development, there is a clear case for collaboration and with it, fertile ground for innovation.
Within this setting there is a clear role for ports, with their extensive maritime networks, and the shipbuilders who provide the tools that work in them.
“As the drivers of innovation become more important, we need to do more. We are doing this not because we believe in it, but because it’s crucial for all our stakeholders – because our employees believe in it and because our clients believe in it,” states Solco.
“We really do need each other to make this happen fast enough,” Marjolein concludes. “Collaborating in the quadruple-helix model enables us to make progress faster together. This only works when all parties actually get involved, are willing to take co-innovation risks and start doing it.”
We aim to be the strong ecosystem leader, bringing together relevant stakeholders and creating the context in which they can pioneer together. This should make us fit for our challenging, but mostly promising, future.
|Marjolein Boer, having studied for a Pre-Master in International Business Administration at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam, went on to graduate Cum Laude with a Master in Marketing Management from the Erasmus University’s School of Management. She worked as a Senior Product Manager on new product and concept development for the Bolton Group before taking up her current positon as Innovation Manager at the Port of Rotterdam. Her role involves the initiation and management of internal and external innovation programmes, as well as networking throughout the port’s portfolio of businesses and beyond in order to connect relevant stakeholders and seize relevant innovation opportunities.|
|Solco Reijnders studied for his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and his Master of Technology in Offshore and Dredging Engineering at the Delft University of Technology. Shortly after graduating Cum Laude he began his career at Damen, working in sales for the Americas region. Following this he took up the role of Program Manager Innovation of the Damen Shipyards Group, which sees him setting up portfolio management on technology and product development, the organisation of innovation challenges and facilitating teams in getting innovative ideas to market.|