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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Land & marine transport projects > The future of European ships
Graphic element The future of European ships

PRODIS is a thematic network of research and development activities devoted to product development and innovation in shipbuilding. More than 25 companies and research organisations from seven European countries are working together, giving the programme the resources it needs to promote R&D in several key areas of ship design and utilisation, and to draw the results together in a 'show' vessel that will represent the potential future of shipping.

Europe's maritime industry plays an important role in economic success, providing essential waterborne transportation of both cargo and passengers. However, persistent growth in world trade is placing pressure on all forms of transportation to be more efficient and more flexible. Environmental issues are also very much at the fore. In June 1996, the European Maritime Industries Forum (MIF) produced a plan that addressed the R&D needs of the maritime industry and highlighted key areas of technology. The shipbuilding industry, led by the COREDES (Co-operation for Research and Development in European Shipbuilding) committee of the European Shipbuilders Association, began to look at ways in which this plan could be implemented. The result was PRODIS - a thematic network designed to co-ordinate R&D activities relevant to product development and innovation in shipbuilding.

Unlike other research programmes, a thematic network is structured to enable research in specific related areas, while also having a research aim that integrates those areas into a whole. PRODIS therefore has four research areas:

1. hydrodynamics

2. hull structures

3. power plants

4. cargo handling and mooring

which are being integrated by the fifth area, new ship concepts. The PRODIS partners work in one or more areas depending on their resources and expertise, but all the partners have access to all the results. This is a key benefit of thematic networks, and in this case it should play a major role in ensuring the competitiveness of the European shipbuilding industry in the future.

Hydrodynamics and hull structures

Under the topic of hydrodynamics, PRODIS has three ongoing projects. The first, FLOWMART, is examining problems associated with the wake of fast ships, including ways to limit the potential damage on coastal environments without having to limit the speed of vessels.

Two new projects have just been approved for funding under the second call of the EU's GROWTH programme. These are SEAROUTES, which aims to optimise the routes followed by vessels in relation to various parameters including the wake they generate, and SEA AHEAD, a project designed to help ships' crews make good decisions in emergency situations.

In the area of hull structures there are two projects. FASTHTS is investigating the potential use of high tensile steel in fast ships and was funded through the first call of the GROWTH programme. A new project, HULLMON, is building on previous hull monitoring research but taking advantage of the fact that sensor technology has become much more sophisticated over recent years. It is therefore now feasible to obtain wide-ranging information about the state of the hull during voyages and to use this information to assist the bridge crew in handling the vessel in a safe way.

Revolutionary propulsion

The shipbuilding industry has recently introduced a revolutionary new propulsion system known as PODS in which the shaft has been replaced by a bulb-shaped propulsion unit driven by an electric motor. The only connection between the bulb and the ship is therefore electric cabling. This design significantly reduces wake effects, and propulsion efficiency is improved by as much as 10%. Two PRODIS projects are dedicated to this new system. OPTIPOD is looking at the impact of PODS on ship design and attempting to optimise the shape of the stern. PODS INSERVICE is a support project for OPTIPOD and any other future related research in that it is collecting data from the existing POD fleet. At present Finland has four passenger ships and one ice-breaker/tanker in-service using this new technology. The French company, Chantiers de l'Atlantique has also just delivered a POD vessel called Millennium - using two 20MW PODS, this vessel represents the largest scale use of the technology to date.

In addition to the POD work, there are two PRODIS project's dealing with engine technology that are expected to have environmental benefits. There is also a project called NORMA, led by Rolls-Royce, which is investigating the noise and vibration characteristics of other new propulsion systems including water jets.

In the area of cargo handling, two projects have just received funding under the GROWTH programme, one of which is concentrating on the efficiency of crane operations.

  New ship concepts

The integrating area, which draws on the results of all the other research projects, is that of new ship concepts, and three projects are under way. EFFISES is researching the potential of surface effect ships - a new design in which the hull of the vessel rides on a layer of air rather than the surface of the water. INBAT is a project dedicated to the design of a new generation of inland waterway vessels.

Perhaps the most important project from the viewpoint of wide-scale industry benefit is VR-SHIPVRSHIPS-ROPAX 2000. This will be a virtual reality demonstrator based on a ro-ro passenger ship which will enable the PRODIS partners to showcase the potential application of all the research results, and increase awareness and therefore utilisation throughout the European shipbuilding.

Hydrodynamics and hull structures
Revolutionary propulsion
New ship concepts

Key EU-funded research

Research and development targeting the European shipbuilding industry falls under the Land transport and marine technologies key action. EU funding combined with industry co-operation is delivering positive results.

  • PRODIS - Product development and innovation in shipbuilding (BRRT-98-5085)

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