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