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NOVIMAR and the vessel train concept

Started on the 1st of June 2017, 22 partners from nine countries elaborate on the concept of vessel platooning. Under the umbrella of NOVIMAR (NOVel Iwt and MARitime transport concepts) project partners aim to improve economic feasibility of waterborne transportation by introducing the concept of the vessel train.

‘Overcoming barriers between transport modes as they exist today will hugely increase the economic viability of waterborne transport,’ says project coordinator Oscar Lauf (Netherlands Maritime Technology Foundation). ‘The ever-increasing size of vessels, driven by economies of scale, makes it hard for waterborne transport chains to reach into Europe’s smaller waterways network and into some of the most populated urban areas. At the same time, we see a steady decline in the total amount of smaller vessels due to relatively high operational costs.’ Lauf believes these challenges can be solved by introducing the vessel train concept.

Concept
‘The vessel train transport concept basically consists of one crewed leader vessel.’, he explains. ‘This leader vessel will be followed by a number of lowly manned or unmanned follower vessels from different class sizes.’ The follower vessels keep their own manoeuvring capabilities but will mostly be led by the crewed leader vessel. This enables individual vessels to sail with less personnel, if any at all. ‘The reduction of labour costs by sailing unmanned or lowly manned will strengthen the over-all competitiveness of the sector and, more specifically, improve the economic potential for smaller vessels,’ says Lauf. He adds that the concept of platooning incorporates the idea of short sea and inland waterways chain integration, through the development of innovative concepts for vessels and cargo handling, adding even further to the foreseen logistical flexibility.


Challenges

The vessels within the train are mutually interlinked by a digital connection. Individual vessels will be able to join and leave the vessel train at places adjacent to their points of origin and destination at seaside or inland. Partners of the NOVIMAR consortium are developing the appropriate tools for smart navigation, command, and control, necessary to ensure safe operations. On the other hand, the skill set of employees must be in line with the new requirements. These employment challenges are also taken into account in the NOVIMAR project.

Market development
NOVIMAR is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon2020 programme for a four years period. For the platooning concept to succeed in the long term, regulatory affairs as well as economic feasibility are equally important as technological capabilities and are therefore addressed simultaneously. Market development is at the core of the project. A profound social cost-benefit analysis based on real life case studies is an important part of our work. Subsequently, we are coming up with a set of recommendations with regards to regulatory affairs.

Stakeholder alignment
So far, the NOVIMAR consortium has received wide endorsement from professional European associations concerned with logistics and labour. They share their valuable insights in the critical components of the concept. Stakeholder alignment is key to success, according to Lauf: ‘This approach will help to make the vessel train sailing concept mature enough to reach the point of shaping a new transport reality in ten years.’

Navigating and manoeuvering the vessel train Waterway infrastructure & operations Waterborne transport system Composition & design of the Vessel Train Safety Business concept of the vessel train Rules & regulations Human factor

Navigating & manoeuvering

The vessel train will be navigated and manoeuvred by the crew on board of the leader vessel. For this, NOVIMAR is developing a user-interface for the control of the course and speed of vessels participating in the vessel train, supported by a mutual communication system. In addition, an overlay on the navigation chart is developed including detailed water depth information. Additionally, the optimal sailing distance between ships in the vessel train is researched. Lastly, particular attention is payed to special operations like docking, passing locks and passing bridges.

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Waterway infrastructure and operations

A vessel train designed for operations in waterways will benefit from current developments in other projects or from products produced by technology providers. Examples are dock locking systems, bridge height measurement systems and river information services. These developments are out of scope of NOVIMAR but will be identified in support of assessing the opportunities of the concept.

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Waterborne transport system

A transport system is represented by infrastructure, vehicles and operations. The waterborne transport system includes both the sea and inland waterways, including locks and bridges, and deep-sea and inland ports and terminals. The vehicles are sea, sea-river and inland vessels. NOVIMAR will assess the viability of the vessel train in the total transport system by use of simulation.

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Composition and design of the vessel train

The vessel train is foreseen as a combination of a leader vessel and one or more follower vessels. The vessels may vary in type, size, and technical specifications. Ships may be refits or new build vessels optimised for the concept. NOVIMAR assesses economic and logistic viability of the various compositions and is researching new ship designs including optimised cargo handling systems.

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Safety

Vessel train operations will have impact on various safety aspects. They concern the safety aspects of the vessels as a platform, the safety of the crew working on board of these vessels, and the safety of other vessels and waterway infrastructure. These and other aspects are researched within the NOVIMAR project.

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Business concept

The business concept of the vessel train organizer is a plan for how revenues are generated and how a profitable company can be developed. It also explains which products and services, like positions (slots) in the vessel train, the vessel train organizer has to deliver to the follower vessels. NOVIMAR investigates various business concepts for operating a vessel train.

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Rules and regulations

Vessel train operations need to be embedded in the rules and regulations in force for existing waterborne transport systems. This requires an effort of a variety of regulatory bodies and other organisations responsible for safe vessel train operations. NOVIMAR will make an attempt to bring this under their attention in order to facilitate future market uptake of the vessel train concept. It should be noted that similar actions are needed to support the development of other innovative waterborne concepts.

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Human factor

Introducing vessel train operations in the existing waterborne transport system will improve working conditions for people on board of the vessel train and in the transport chain. Therefore, the need for well-designed automation and human machine interfaces in combination with newly defined skills can be expected. NOVIMAR will research these aspects.

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NOVIMAR background & characteristics

The acronym NOVIMAR stands for NOVel Iwt and MARitime transport concepts (Iwt = Inland water transport). The project is a response on a 2016-2017 Mobility for Growth call from the EU Horizon 2020 Programme on smart, green and integrated transport.

Collaboration with partners & stakeholders

The consortium contains 22 partners: logistic operators, industry, public bodies and research organisations from seven EU and two associated countries.