A sea of innovation

Sustainable operations offer a competitive differentiator for savvy shipyards

Nick Lerner
30 October 2019

3 min read

As sustainability becomes a greater priority in the shipping industry, some shipyard operators are capitalizing on design and manufacturing innovations that enable zero-waste operations to produce zero-emission ships. The result? Shipping and shipbuilding businesses that are more sustainable.

As shipyards worldwide focus on strategies for improved competitiveness, Damen Shipyards Group in Gorinchem, Netherlands, has chosen an innovative approach to differentiating its offer: deploying simulation technology to efficiently design and build vessels that minimize carbon emissions.

The company’s new, fully electric ferries, for example, have zero emissions, while emissions from its other craft have been cut by 20%-60% via hybrid propulsion technologies, in some cases reducing vessel resistance through hull design or applying different types of surface finish. Air lubrication also cuts energy demand by up to 10%.

“System integration and optimization are key to carbon reduction,” said Jorinus Kalis, Damen’s manager of development in R&D. “This is where digital technology plays an important role. Right from project initiation, we use 3D design, development and visualization to digitally create, test and validate efficiencies in our systems, products and operations.”

3D model-based data allows designers to demonstrate new ideas to internal and external stakeholders. “The options for creating greater efficiency can be complex and therefore difficult for people to understand,” Kalis said. “The business and technical cases for modifying and innovating interacting fuel, propulsion and electrical systems can more easily be made using highly visual and ultra-realistic validated data that proves the financial and environmental impacts of decisions.”


Lloyd’s Register, the marine classification and professional services organization, reports that meeting the UN’s goal for the shipping industry of 50%-70% carbon emissions reduction will require significantly more zero-emission vessels (ZEVs) by 2030. To achieve this, an increasing number of new-builds will need to be zero emission, to compensate for the CO2 output of existing fleets.

The business implications for the shipbuilding industry are clear: operators will choose the yards that can most efficiently, competitively and sustainably build and deliver low-emission and zero-emission vessels.

As a result, innovative shipyards – like Damen – are increasingly focused on the inextricable link between environmental and commercial factors. To balance the many competing priorities of modern ship operators, these shipyards are deploying digital simulation to explore and solve CO2 emissions issues while simultaneously increasing productivity and efficiency to become more environmentally and commercially sustainable businesses. 3D simulation allows shipyards to explore many more design options to zero in on the optimal balance of performance, initial cost, total cost of ownership, cargo capacity, environmental impacts and more.

“The current pressure to reduce emissions, and need to minimize costs, is driving demand for efficient ship designs,” said Richard Halfhide, editor of The Naval Architect, the Royal Institution of Naval Architects’ principal magazine. “There’s no silver bullet for low-carbon shipping yet, but operators live in the same society as the rest of us and want to find solutions. Yards that offer low-carbon vessels will be the big winners in the marketplace so shipyards are concentrating on that, to the mutual advantage of the planet and their business.”

Damen Shipyards Group is a prime example of the trend. The company employs 12,000 people worldwide and produces 150 vessels each year. Damen’s vessels range from 10-meter (32 foot) workboats to 205-meter (673-foot) navy support vessels. These are manufactured, serviced and refurbished at yards located on six continents.

Damen’s leaders view their focus on sustainability as a good business decision.

“Rather than wait for legislation and rules to drive change, we are making a difference by developing new propulsion systems, such as hybrid electric and battery diesel electric, as well as working toward ever-more efficient and zero- materials-waste manufacturing,” Kalis said. “There is a strong business and social incentive to promote environmental sustainability. Common sense tells us to act responsibly, and that boats and yards that reduce emissions and waste at the manufacturing stage achieve technical, commercial and environmental improvements.”


For more than 100 years, dieselpowered boats have contributed to a thriving maritime economy but also to environmental degradation. To reverse that trend, designers are focusing on innovative ways to reverse the tide. New ideas include exhaust scrubbers and catalysts that capture emissions before they are released into the atmosphere; replacement fuels that include LNG, hydrogen, methane and methanol; and oxidized fluid cells, like those found in hybrid cars.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) projects that international trade will grow at around 3.5%-4% per year; news organization Reuters reports that this demand is likely to drive up ocean cargo and, consequently, demand for ships. Simulation technology is helping shipbuilders to capitalize on this growth market by incorporating data about a boat’s expected operating conditions into its design, ensuring overall design integrity and manufacturability before production begins. Combining the vessel’s component, system and software data at the design stage, where the data can be tested virtually through advanced digital simulation, helps designers to achieve optimum performance.

“Because we combine systems and validate them before they have been physically initiated or procured, mistakes are avoided and risk is reduced,” Kalis said.

“In addition to simulating onboard vessel systems, Damen’s shipyard operations have also been simulated, leading to manufacturing process efficiencies and reductions of wasted materials and work. This strategy has doubled manufacturing productivity for some shipyard operations, and we plan to extend this aspect of simulation further.”

Ultimately, he said, investment in powerful simulation capabilities helps Damen optimize the performance of its products – and the performance of its business.

“Digitalization means we can make firm performance commitments to partners, stakeholders and operators, demonstrating the additional value these innovations bring in terms of assured financial gain.” ◆

For more information on intelligent connected systems, please visit: go.3ds.com/2MP

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