Shipbuilding has always been a
labour-intensive industry and with today's spiralling labour costs, European
shipyards are finding it extremely difficult to compete in the global
market. Now, the ROBMAR network is bringing together experts in robotic
technology from industry, research institutes and educational establishments
to investigate the potential automation of the labour-intensive tasks
essential to shipbuilding, maintenance and repair.
In June 1996 an R&D Master Plan was put forward at
the European Maritime Industries Forum which stated that in order for
European shipyards to remain competitive they must become technology-intensive.
One way forward is through the increased use of robots to carry out tedious
tasks such as cleaning and welding which are often performed under hazardous
conditions. This would not only help cut labour costs but also improve
the health and safety of manual workers.
||Adapting to maritime
Unlike the automobile
industry where the use of robots is widespread, shipbuilding is
more of a 'one-of-a-type' production. This makes efficient and cost-effective
automation extremely difficult to achieve. To increase competitiveness
in the short term, shipbuilders have tended to concentrate their
efforts on production planning and design efficiency using existing
computer-aided technology. Many now realise that labour-intensive
and dangerous work must inevitably be automated, but in the present
economic climate, this is not high on their list of priorities.
To help remedy the situation, the European Commission has funded
a number of projects and thematic networks aimed at adapting robotic
technologies to maritime applications.
"The same long-term need exists in other
maritime sectors like cargo handling, ship repair and maintenance,
and marine resource exploitation," explains Dr Fivos Andritsos,
ROBMAR's scientific co-ordinator. "The role of the ROBMAR network
is to enhance the exchange of information and the use of common
technologies between the key players in the maritime sector, academia,
research institutes and high-tech industries."
||A team effort
ROBMAR partners represent
both industry and research establishments. Each is already involved
in one or more Brite Euram or GROWTH projects. These include: ROTIS
- developing a miniature remotely operated vehicle for inspection
and gauging; OCTOPUS
- a wheeled robot for hull and topside cleaning; ROWER
- a mobile robot welding system; and AURORA
- a robot for underwater ship hull cleaning. Leading partners from
each project meet on a regular basis, facilitating the exchange
of ideas and information and helping to prevent duplication of effort.
Each meeting features a presentation by partners
from one of the above-mentioned projects. For example, in October,
2000, the meeting held in Marseilles coincided with an exhibition
of underwater robots by ROBMAR partner Cybernetix
. Other participants include Italy's Technomare,
an important marine technologies engineering group, the Industrial
Institute of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research, and
the Commission's Joint
Research Centre (JRC).
In order to reach a larger audience, the ROBMAR
network has organised two 2-day workshops. The first, entitled "Common
operating systems and architectures", was held on 22-23 November
2000 at the JRC's Institute
for Systems, Informatics and Safety. It was centred around the
use of GENERIS software and participants were given a live demonstration
of GENERIS, including a demonstration of the 'Virtual Robot Simulation
Tool'. A second workshop, scheduled for later this year to coincide
with the pool trials and demonstration of ROTIS, will focus on "The
implications of robotic technologies on the regulations and inspection
of maritime vessels".
ROBMAR also maintains active links with other
networks, namely CEPS
(Competitive Engineering and Production in Shipbuilding - IMT network),
(Climbing and Walking Machines) and the ICIMS
network of excellence (Intelligent Control and Integrated Manufacturing
"One of the most useful outcomes of this
network so far," says Dr Andritsos, "has been the development
of new collaborations between major EU industries, institutes and
research organisations." As a result, three new projects are
now being funded by the European Commission: DOCKWELDER,
the main aim of which is to automate 30% of the welding tasks in
the dock area; FREESUB, which addresses the development and exchange
of human resources for the technologies dealing with unmanned sub-sea
vehicles, and ALIVe, aimed at the development of an autonomous undersea
light intervention vehicle.
It is the intention of the ROBMAR network to
remain open to new projects and to European or national networks
and similar initiatives. It is hoped that DOCKWELDER may also join
the network in the near future.
Work carried out by the ROBMAR thematic network
will improve the competitiveness of European shipyards and is
supported under the Growth Programme's Land
transport and marine technologies key action.
- Robotics For the Maritime Industries.