Marine News spoke to leaders at three North American naval architecture and marine engineering firms about some of the latest trends impacting their business today. Mike Fitzpatrick, president, Robert Allan Ltd.; Jeff Bowles, director, DLBA Naval Architects; and Rich Mueller, president and CEO, NETSCo., weigh in on topics such as digitalization, decarbonization and the naval architect talent pool.
Q1: How do you view the maritime industry’s ongoing shifts in areas such as digitalization and decarbonization, and how does your firm fit into the picture? For NETSCo, it means finding different ways to do business. It isn’t just guys sitting at drawing boards with T-squares and slide rules like in the really old days. It’s not even just doing drafting work because digitalization implies that we’re building manipulable, 3D models of their vessels that they can use to perhaps optimize loading or optimize speed power curves or any of the things that will help ships to operate more efficiently.
Q2. Are you seeing growing interest in vessel electrification and alternative fuels, and where is most attention being directed? We see with most of the alternative fuels is they either take up a lot more volume in terms of space than using diesel, or the BTU content is not as high, and therefore they need more of it in order to have the same endurance rating for their voyages. We’re seeing it more in the short sea shipping market of tug and barges.
Q3. What do you see as the number one technology or innovation over the course of your career that has most impacted commercial marine operations? the biggest technology that has impacted our work was the advancements in software. It started with AutoCAD and other products like AutoCAD, CAD drafting, computerized drafting, but it’s gone well past that. The power that this software has giving us, modeling software and computational fluid dynamic (CFD) software has been incredibly helpful in terms of doing things that we used to just guess at. Now we can bring the science to bear because the computer modeling software is just so much better. And whether that is evidenced by improved loading manuals or hydrostatic modeling software, or CFD modeling, or vessel interaction, this has all been incredibly improved.
Q4. What is one recent project you are most proud of, and why? We just commissioned a barge mounted ship unloader that essentially turned our Boston-based client’s terminal into a new import facility. Now the client is able to import product directly to their Boston terminal, unload it and put it into their silos at a rate that they never could have dreamed of before. This is not the first import facility we’ve done, but the most recent. This has been a very interesting project for us. It combines our bulk material handling expertise, our machinery expertise, our dock and facility expertise all into one project.
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