08 January 2015

The limits have not yet been reached

Text: Franziska Porsch

When it comes to transporting goods, sea routes are one of the most important connections to foreign countries. The trend in container volumes handled in German ports is on the increase – and it is thought that they will almost double by 2030. This growth presents new challenges for existing port facilities and for those being planned as it affects their security, economic efficiency and environmental performance. For their customers, researchers at the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services (CML) in Hamburg simulate specific scenarios in real time based on environmental and shipping data to assess the nautical security of facilities. We put some questions to Carlos Jahn, the head of CML, concerning the centre’s activities, the design of ports and the limitations of simulation to expand on the topic of water, which we covered in form 256, as a means of transportation.


What services does CML offer and what kinds of customer make use of them?


The Fraunhofer CML develops system solutions in maritime logistics. In doing so, it develops and optimises the processes and systems along the maritime supply chain. The centre’s customers include both private and public clients in the areas of port operations, logistics services and shipping. Using modern technologies and innovative IT systems are a pre-requisite to ensure that global goods flows are economic, environmentally friendly and secure. The Fraunhofer CML is an expert in this area: we create foundations for making strategic decisions in site development and hinterland connections by using a transport model that reproduces the future transport volumes in individual regions. We also cover optimisation potentials at terminals in our digital planning environment. This is where we also present energy-saving options for handling and transport equipment. We also solve complex requests in ship management using mathematical optimisation and thus improve the deployment of personnel and the procurement situation in our customers’ fleets. Lastly, we simulate issues concerning critical nautical situations on our shipping simulator in which manoeuvres in ports and approaches can be operated as well as on the high seas



How do you think that the demand for these services came about? What has changed in freight transport in recent years and what will change in ports in the future?


Just like the entire global economy, ports have experienced a whole series of crucial changes in recent years: globalisation has caused international trade volumes to experience growth of 60 per cent since the year 2000 and digitalisation has increased the speed of exchanging information massively. Moreover, productivity in port handling has increased further and the requirement for energy efficiency causes further pressure for innovation on the terminal.

In all, there are great demands on the people responsible in the maritime industry as a result of these conditions, but there are huge opportunities, too. The Fraunhofer CML has set itself the goal of supporting companies and management in the required optimisation and transformation processes.



What new conditions are there for building ports? How will existing ports be rebuilt and what are the important factors to be borne in mind when constructing new ones?


I should mention that in Germany, new terminals will be built rather than entire ports. There are two particularly relevant developments for building ports arising from the challenges described: (container) ships are becoming bigger and bigger and new requirements are being demanded of ports in terms of use.

The consequence of increasing growth in shipping has changed the requirements for terminals and port operators. Terminals must design their suprastructures, the handling equipment such as quay cranes, and also storage areas and road ways to cater for larger ships so that these can be unloaded in spite of their increased width and the growing number of containers and other goods to be handled. In addition, the shipping lines and agents expect comparatively high speeds in handling and clearance to be achieved as before, as the container ships handled only 2,000 to 3,000 containers at one stop in Hamburg compared to up to 6,000 today. In view of increasing growth in shipping, port operators must ensure the terminals’ accessibility and their long-term suitability. And larger ships require different turning circle diameters and longer quays.

New usage for ports has emerged over recent years during the growth of the cruise industry and the development of the off-shore wind farm industry. Both forms of business make very different demands on port construction. Cruise terminals need to be located as centrally as possible in the ports of call for good accessibility by the several thousand passengers and to ensure supplies can be taken on board efficiently. In addition to secure accessibility (Queen Mary 2 is 345 metres long, for example), they also require check-in and supply infrastructure in the terminal.

Terminals on which off-shore wind power stations are handled have completely different logistical demands: the focus in planning is on landside accessibility and the handling of extremely large and heavy individual components.

If new terminals are built or adapted to existing new requirements, the safety of  nautical accessibility and other shipping transport must be ensured and we must subject the building of new facilities to this requirement.


What role does water play in this? What characteristics have an influence on designing the port facilities?


When planning port facilities and terminals, very different characteristics have to be taken into account regarding the water that is there. Speed and directions of flow are as important in the planning as the knowledge of maximum and minimum water levels. In addition, the use of some materials or in- and outflows and characteristics such as the salt content and temperature also play a part as they can influence the colonisation of organisms brought in from other countries.

In the planning and simulation tasks that are carried out at CML, the speed and directions of water flow are the most important as, like the prevailing wind conditions, they have the greatest influence on the controllability of ships.



What design disciplines are involved in the process of designing ports – designers and architects?


In its investigations concerning the nautical accessibility and security, CML has necessary framework conditions for shipping and therefore parameters such as position and dimensions of terminals, quays and waterways in these areas. Water boards are usually responsible for the actual planning, their engineers monitor existing facilities and design new ones. We are not aware of which other design disciplines are involved.



Does the design of ships or freighters have an influence on port design and vice versa?


Previous years have shown that the development of terminals follows the development of ships. The growth in the size of vessels in relation to falling transport costs through scales of economy in interplay with the growth of the world economy determines the investments made in ports and terminals. These are demonstrated in extending quays, installing larger and high-performance quayside cranes, installing or expanding turning basins and deepening waterways.


A simulation is an approximation of reality. How was the simulator designed to be as close to reality as possible? For example, are the ship’s background noises included while the navigator sails the ship in the simulator?


The simulator at the Fraunhofer CML is used for research purposes. It is important therefore for the staff to have the option of including and amending parameters, to be able to establish connections with other ship handling simulators and also be able to sail self-designed ships in this environment. This differentiates our simulator from training simulators in training facilities as it is possible and essential to experience as realistic an environment as possible. Our simulator has a multitude of monitors required for sailing and steering the ship from the bridge and for steering and conveying the computer commands and there is a very high computer capacity for graphics and implementation.

While some of the screens show the view from the bridge, other screens show the view a broader perspective of the open sea. Others display electronic charts with courses and data from other ships, important information about the operating conditions of the ship and the radar image.

Noises can be activated as can various different weather and visibility conditions which can be relevant for different simulation scenarios.



Where do the limits of simulation lie?


At CML the limits of simulation (in the wording of the question) have not yet been reached. In the area of research, for example in the MUNIN project which is examining the control of autonomous ships, or the MONALISA 2.0 project in which the network of simulators across Europe is being developed, there are still many opportunities to test many options to try out different developments which cannot be presented for various reasons.

Basically the quality of a simulation is dependent on the datapool on which it is based. In maritime shipping, this datapool is drawn from the development of ships and is of a very high quality, complemented by the world of digital charts that depict the maritime environment more exactly than some analogue charts. The results of simulations are therefore very reliable.

The limits of simulation can therefore been seen in the crucial selection of parameters and scenarios that are taken into account in a test.


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