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Wartsila Launches Ultra Slow Steaming Bulker Concept


In June 2015, Wärtsilä started a project called BUSSER – Ultra Slow Steaming Bulker Concept.  This concept has been in vogue for some years now.  Although contradictory, the slow steaming concept allows for a heavy reduction in fuel costs, a cut in bunker bills and safe delivery of cargo by choosing a safe route.

General Manager for Wärtsilä’s Market Development & Innovation, Teus van Beek, admitted that slow steaming would mean longer duration of time to reach the destination, it would also mean a bigger crew on payroll that could translate to higher labour costs.  He, therefore, opined that the future of shipping lies in unmanned, fully autonomous ships.   It is a known fact that the present day fuel is only 25% energy efficient and added to this the need for speed is what adds tremendously to costs.

Senior Development Manager, at Wärtsila, Henning von Wedel  saw the practical side of the issues with bigger, bulkier sized ships thus:

“We see that not only in the containership market but also for liquid and bulk cargo. Cruise ships are also getting bigger and bigger.  The challenge is – beyond the economy of size – to convince our customers that the issue is more complex and requires looking at integrated concepts, which include shipbuilding and operation cost for the vessels and taking only crew costs into consideration here would offer a very short-sighted perspective on the matter”.

Henning von Wedel explained that cost reduction is the ultimate goal of customers and Wärtsilä is looking into unmanned Ultra Slow Steaming as a means to achieve it, at the same time, the issues of autonomous shipping are many.

He is quoted to have said: “One of the factors is the vessel’s operating cost, and another one is the crew cost.  The slower you go, the lower the operational cost and opposed to that, the crew cost increases with lower speed.  There are also additional costs like the financial cost for the cargo and freight rates – that also rise as speed goes down.”.

Wärtsilä focuses on developing technology that would help customers reduce costs.  This technology includes efficient shipbuilding processes, new materials, efficient propulsion, enhanced automation and going along with all this, operations simplification.  Wärtsilä is a forward looking company that is into related technology of integrated automation, smart energy management, big data and propulsion and powering, as well as advanced shipbuilding materials and processes, autonomous systems, renewable energy integration and communication.

Both Beek and Wedel view the Ultra Slow Steaming as an excellent option when the cargo being transported needs no extra cooling or any other special systems to keep the cargo intact.  This would not require a very hi-tech vessel either.  The plan behind ‘Ultra Slow Steaming’ is to use large vessels for the economy by deploying them on tried-and-true routes to avoid unexpected weather conditions.

With these objectives in mind, in June 2015, Wärtsilä launched a project called BUSSER – Ultra Slow Steaming Bulker Concept.  The project team so formed has identified bulker vessels that are already in good demand in the market.  The next step would be to choose an optimal speed such as 6 and 8 knots instead of 12 to 15 knots, that is the current trend.

The next step would be to do a trial sea run as a demonstration to their customers.  Wedel feels that in the long run ferries and cruise ships too, could be roped in.

While, both Henning von Wedel and Teus van Beek do acknowledge that there is a long way to go before the BUSSER goal comes to life, the big picture vision of BUSSER is to be eventually able to launch ships with no human crew members and vessels that consume minimal fuel both using the super slow steaming system.  By an entirely autonomous ship, human error can be eliminated totally. Such a remote controlled independent vessel will feature optimized hydrodynamics, wind and conventional propulsion, full automation and maintenance on demand.

Mr. Wedel concluded that renewable power supply and reduction in the crew were the two factors pointing toward future trends.  In a practical view of things to be, he opined that at no point, highly automated vessels could be without humans on board.  There will always still be a need for manpower on demand; a responsible person on-site at all times to deal with the complexities of automation systems.  So, the captain is likely to stay put.

Source: Wärtsilä