Is Iron Mike The Solution To Ship Efficiency?

digiplot arpa New technology solutions set on improving ship efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions appear in the inbox of gCaptain editors every week but many of these green ideas are in their infancy or simply impossible using today’s technology. Yet shipping companies are willing to test many of the ideas as price of oil continues to soar over the $100/barrel mark. Fuel contributes over 30% of commercial maritime shipping operating costs and although an efficient mode of transportation, contributes to the overall global carbon footprint.

But in the hostile environment of open ocean sailing simpler solutions tend to prevail and, in a tight economy, options that can be retrofit at low-cost have the best chance at success. One such solution, DIGIPILOT from AutoMATE Marine Systems, is just such a solution. The system is an adaptive “smart autopilot add-on” that can be integrated into existing vessel steering systems and optimizes ship’s rudder movement to provide significant reduction in fuel costs, voyage time and environmental impact.

DIGIPILOT is primarily engineered for ships of 10,000 grt and larger in which adaptive steering control and very slow controlled turns can provide annual fuel savings of approximately $250,000. The algorithms it uses work in all sea states including rough seas and can easily be installed as an auxiliary to standard autopilot systems.

DIGIPILOT works by reducing rudder action by removing wave motion effects on control that result in fuel savings and a slight increase of speed from less rudder and hull drag. Experience from testing the system indicates that the fuel savings of the system is between 1 and 3%.

And DIGIPLOT has other features up its sleeve including an optional auto acquisition ARPA that shows up to 40 surrounding vessels and/or buoys directly on Navionics HD vector charts. This provides the long sought after “Holy Grail” of ship navigation – a single display maneuvering aid for both anti-collision and grounding prevention. Further, the radar used for the ARPA function, is presented as “see through” rather than an obscuring raw video image. Because only the closest coastline surrounding own ship is shown. In doing this the system meets the ECDIS requirement of not obscuring any chart information, as is the case when normal radar video is superimposed on ECDIS.

DIGIPLOT also has a unique Trial Maneuver sped up 30 times, which may be used to predict the effect of own ship changing course, speed and the time to execute. During an ARPA predicted close passing with another vessel, whose CPA and time to CPA is many minutes ahead, several trials may be evaluated by viewing the vector predicted motion of all vessels (assuming they maintain course and speed).

Each ship’s DIGIPLOT has its turning and stopping characteristics built in which are equal to a naval architect’s most conservative characteristics. This feature is particularly useful when approaching land, and the watch officer (particularly one who doesn’t have enough experience for the “feel” of the ship), by quickly trying several course and speed options he can be aware of its wide arc during turning clearly showing the proper time to execute at his present speed when the maneuver will be well clear of grounding. The trial is similar to seeing a typical AIS time sequenced plot used for after-the-fact analysis of an incident, except this trial depiction shows when it is still hypothetical and a proper quantitatively evaluated maneuver can be executed safely to clear other vessels and charted obstructions.

Twenty of these adaptive autopilot systems have been sold for use on a variety of ships.