Thought Leadership

Digitalization is key for sustainable shipping success

By JanVanOs

With the international push to achieve more sustainable shipping and more stringent shipping regulations, the shipping industry—from designers and builders to shipyards and ship owners—faces increasing pressure to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. The shipping industry will also need to address ways to eliminate the release of waste (such as oil spills), manage ballast water in a way that doesn’t disrupt local ecosystems and reduce noise pollution that harms marine life.

The shipping industry must move away from traditional approaches to digital simulation to meet sustainable system requirements. By adopting the latest product lifecycle management (PLM) technologies, including digital twin and design simulation, designers will not only reduce the time and cost involved, but will be able to predict earlier in the design process the performance of a ship across a complete set of operating and maneuvering conditions—something that cannot be done using traditional methods.

By combining these technologies with the latest capabilities—such as generative design, intelligent design exploration and optimization—at full scale under real operating conditions, designers will be freed of traditional design constraints to engineer innovation and maximize value, as they meet sustainability goals.

Such digital simulation capabilities enable design engineers to test hundreds of geometric variants to find the best performance for future ships. These simulations would require so much time and resources with physical testing that it would not be possible.

Improvement focus: cost, speed and certainty

The cost of a typical towing tank simulation is $150,000 for a basic calm-water resistance test for one geometry. With digital simulation, designers could do thousands of simulations and possibly test hundreds of different geometries—with the same amount of money and significantly less time.

Another huge benefit is predictability. As with most innovations, one of the most significant risks is in delivering on the design promise.

When things go wrong, costs ripple through the supply chain and amount to millions of dollars, including those that accrue to:

• Designers: the costs of missing bid-stage targets and underperforming designs
• Shipyards: the penalties and legal battles that will arise when expected design improvements don’t deliver
• Ship owners: the operational costs they will be expecting over the life of the ship
• Everyone: the environmental costs associated with failure to meet sustainability targets

Until the availability of modern PLM software, these risks slowed the pace of design innovation in the shipping industry.

PLM solutions can help entice stakeholder interest by making it more efficient, affordable and predictable to produce unique, innovate solutions that improve sustainability. For example, with digital simulation, you can:

• Test multiple factors (hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, propulsion) in one environment
• Obtain a holistic and realistic view of what will happen in real life, unlike traditional methods where you test conditions and components separately
• Get more accurate results—especially for novel designs.

Faster commitments with digital simulation

For example, Havyard Group ASA, a Norwegian ship technology company that delivers product and service within the complete value chain, was approaching a deadline to submit its response to a tender. As is customary, Havyard had to commit to a performance requirement, which in this case, called for the vessel to be able to cruise at 20 knots with minimal fuel consumption. That meant that the lower consumption the company committed to, the greater chance it had of winning the contract. However, if it ultimately failed to deliver on the commitment during sea trials, it would face significant penalties. Due to the short deadline and the fact that it was a tender, towing tank testing was neither possible nor practical.

Using Siemens’ Simcenter portfolio, the project was turned around in less than one week, with three design loops that further improved the design—and inside the ten days available before the deadline.

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Building a sustainable shipping business

From a bigger picture perspective, investing in digitalization will benefit the future of shipping, whether from an individual company perspective or an industry perspective. In addition to helping speed up the move toward sustainable shipping, other opportunities include the following:

First-to-market breakthroughs: Because the industry has been slower to adopt digitalization and innovation for sustainability, there are significant opportunities for first-to-market breakthroughs. One ongoing challenge has been how to design a ballast-free ship, but such advances could also happen on a systems level. One wonders, for instance, who will develop the first battery that can power a merchant ship’s transatlantic journey?

Traceability and visibility: As there’s more pressure on sustainable practices within supply chains, the shipping industry will benefit from better visibility and traceability into goods transport. Digitization of data and digitalization of processes creates an accurate record of truth that provides a means for measuring outcomes of improvement efforts, identifying the cause of problems quickly for fast correction and tracing responsibility back to singular suppliers.

More efficient and sustainable shipyards: Shipbuilding itself consumes a vast amount of resources. A complete rethinking of ship design and construction to focus on longevity, refurbishment and materials recovery and reuse are possible with today’s technology. More likely, the industry will take iterative steps to move closer to this ideal, but digitalization can speed up that process by enabling game-changing technologies like additive manufacturing.

Digitalizing the shipping industry

Meeting the new shipping regulations, though challenging, will be made more manageable and less costly as the shipping industry adopts advanced PLM technologies for product development and management. By utilizing digital design solutions, ship performance can be predicted and optimized early in the design process, allowing better, safer and greener ship development, cheaper and faster.

This concludes our series on sustainable shipping. 

About the author
Jan van Os is the vice president of marine industry strategy for Siemens PLM Software and helps the company define industry-specific market solutions for marine customers. Jan has also been employed at Damen Shipyards since 1988. During his time there, he has worked as project engineer, project manager, yard manager and managing director of a ship repair yard. From 2009 to 2017, he was the product director of offshore & transport, a department specializing in the design and construction of offshore support vessels, multipurpose vessels, offshore patrol vessels, fishing vessels and custom built vessels. Jan was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and completed his technical studies in naval architecture in 1987.


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at