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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Land & marine transport projects > Adapting robots to European shipbuilding
Graphic element Adapting robots to European shipbuilding

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 applications

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 Automation 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), CLAWAR (Climbing and Walking Machines) and the ICIMS network of excellence (Intelligent Control and Integrated Manufacturing Systems).

"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.

Adapting to maritime applications
A team effort

Key data

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.


ROBMAR - Robotics For the Maritime Industries.

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