Jeroen Pruijn, lecturer in Maritime Innovation at Centre of Expertise (CoE) HRTech (Hogeschool Rotterdam) is working on a robust design approach for ships based on systems engineering. This will enable the building of future-proof ships with good performance, both today and in the future.

Ships are a crucial link in every production and supply chain, providing up to ninety per cent of all transport. But they also have a large contribution in greenhouse gas and local emissions and contain many hazardous materials. To change this, we need to take into account the full life cycle of a vessel, including decommissioning and proper reuse of used materials.

In a documentary, as part of his public lecture (31 January 2023), Pruijn, lecturer in Maritime Innovation at CoE HRTech, discuses his efforts to include systems engineering in the maritime curriculum. Watch the entire documentary below (in Dutch with English subtitles. Here are some of the highlights of the video.

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Much uncertainty

‘This is one of the most transformative eras for the maritime industry,’ says Jurrit Bergsma, Scientist Integrator – Sustainable Shipping at TNO. ‘But it’s uncertain what the world will look like in ten or twenty years. The goal is to become climate-neutral by 2050. But how do we get there? What steps do we take? And most of all: how do we make this economically feasible for everyone?’

Jorinus Kalis, Manager Development at Damen Shipyards adds: ‘The last major transition was mechanical propulsion. That took some eighty years. But over the next ten years, so much new technology and so many new client demands and client wishes as well as fundamentally different business models will emerge, that slow and gradual product development will just take far too much time. We know that relevant European ships will be significantly different by 2030. And that’s not a long time from now.’

Pruijn: ‘We’re dealing with enormous complexity as well as the urgency of making progress by 2030 and finishing by 2050. The vessels we build now, will still sail in 2050, so we need to work on them now. So my research question is: How can we future-proof these ships and work on the sustainability aspect at the same time?

From propulsion to data and regulations

According to Pruijn, maritime sustainability has different aspects. ‘The first is sustainable propulsion. That’s eighty per cent of a ship’s emissions over its lifetime: fuel burned. But a ship is a huge source of materials, too. And they often end up on beaches. In order to recycle those materials, we need to source them differently. So we can make sure they can be recouped and hopefully reused.’

He continues: ‘To do that, we need data. That’s why data and the current digitalisaion are also important. Lastly, the sustainability movement needs a clear impetus because there is often no economical gain to be had. That’s why we need to change regulations, standards and laws to support this shift.’

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Requirements becoming more important

‘There’s a lot of pressure in terms of time and money to keep a new ship design cheap. On the other hand, if we want to change, that’s the stage where it has to happen. Because that’s when decisions are made on the materials, the vessel’s length. So the quality of the solution is determined in that first stage before the contract,’ explains Pruijn.

That is why he feels more time needs to be spent on outlining the requirements. Pruijn: ‘We need to ask owners more about what they want and where their interests lie and be less preoccupied with making the cheapest possible design to win the contract.’

Robust design

As the requirements become more important, Pruijn advocates the use of a robust form of design.

Pruijn: ‘I believe that when we look at the energy transition, we want to change a ship once, maybe twice, at most three times if we’re talking about 100 years and modify its function and propulsion system. So we have to be prepared to make the ship last and be able to replace these things. So we want to increase flexibility, but not immediately use new fuel. Above all, we want to make it more easily adaptable. That’s a form of robust design that is future proof.’

This way of designing also has benefits when it comes to shipbreaking: ‘The great thing is that if we design something we can more easily disassemble and where there’s room to install new things, it will be easier to eventually demolish the ship, because the disassembly is an integral part of the design.’

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Towards systems engineering

‘For robust design, we need to change the way we currently design vessels,’ says Pruijn. ‘Right now, we’re still teaching people to use a design spiral, which is becoming less relevant since we need to focus more on the requirements. A suitable methode for this is systems engineering. The focus lies on keeping track of the requirements. Know the origins of a requirement, who made it and how solid it is and what design choices have been made on an increasingly more detailed level to meet that requirement. So you can trace the requirements for each decision you’ve made and why that choice has been made.’

However, systems engineering still has to be designed for the maritime industry. Pruijn: ‘It requires particular tools and idiosyncrasies. The fact that the hull provides buoyancy, influences the speed and forms the structure that bears all the loads is a fact that means it will need an integrated approach for a systems engineering design. On a practical research level this means: How do we deal with this and what tools can and can’t we use? And when we’re trying to figure this out along with other companies, it’s useful to integrate this knowledge in the education system.’

Education needs to be a frontrunner

‘As an educational organisation we need to be frontrunners and indicate that we’re researching certain developments we’re seeing and we want to include this in our teaching to make the knowledge available, so these people are available when they’re actually needed,’ says Pruijn.

Pruijn concludes: ‘The main thing I’d like to have achieved five years from now is to have an organisation based on the various courses we offer that uses research to make education a frontrunner. And for me, the main thing right now is systems engineering. If we have developed this five years from now in a way that we can impart it to students in its most basic form, so this knowledge enters our field on all levels… If we manage to accomplish that, I will be happy.’

Picture: Jeroen Pruijn (from SWZ|Maritime, edition 1, 2023).

SWZ|Maritime’s January 2023 education special featured an article by Jeroen Pruijn amongst others about the introduction of systems engineering in education. Subscribers can read this issue in our digital archive. Not yet a subscriber? Visit our subscription page.