Virtual Prototyping of Maritime Systems and Operations: the project

Virtual Prototyping of Maritime Systems and Operations, or “ViProMa” among friends, was an R&D project executed between 2013 and 2016 with the primary objective of designing an open framework for virtual prototyping and simulation of maritime systems and operations. One of the main results from the project is this web site.

The ViProMa project was carried out by researchers and engineers in the Norwegian maritime industry and research community to solve a specific set of challenges that the industry is facing. In this section, we'll go through some of the background for it.

Context

Norway has a very strong maritime industry which, among other things, designs and builds some of the world's most sophisticated vessels for the offshore oil and gas industry, for fisheries and acquaculture, and more recently, for installation and maintenance of offshore wind power systems. Such vessels are often tailored for specific purposes or customers, leading to one-of-a-kind solutions rather than serial production. Furthermore, the operations that these vessels must carry out become more and more demanding every year, for several reasons:

  • Due to resource availability, oil and gas operations are moving further north, closer to the Arctic, where the conditions are very harsh.
  • Fish farms are moving further out towards exposed waters, to open up larger areas and prevent overexploitation of environmentally sensitive areas closer to land.
  • Offshore wind farms are part of the solution to the world's energy and climate problems, but an offshore windmill is an extremely unwieldly structure to install and maintain.
  • Pressure on efficiency and cost reductions means that maritime operations must take place all year round, in all kinds of weather, with minimal down time.

All of these things, coupled with ever stricter safety regulations, and a strong, global focus on environmental issues, makes planning and execution of such operations, not to mention the design of the vessels that carry them out, extremely challenging.

A ship is a large, complicated, and therefore expensive product. A suboptimal design can have large consequences in terms of reduced efficiency and operability, not to mention the time and money spent on fixing flaws and replacing equipment after the ship has been built.

Simulation has therefore rapidly become one of the most important tools in the toolboxes of ship designers and engineers from all the disciplines involved in the design, construction and operation of the vessels. However, for various reasons that we'll explore in the next section, simulation-based methods and tools are not being used to their full potential. This is where the ViProMa project comes in.

Challenges

A modern ship is a highly sophisticated, complex work of engineering. It contains vast numbers of subsystems, components and instruments that involve many different physical domains and engineering disciplines. These include (but are definitely not limited to) hydrodynamics, thermodynamics, structural mechanics, power systems, electronics, control systems and software.

There exist specialised software tools for modelling and simulating most of these subsystems. What has been lacking, however, is software that enables you to combine all the subsystems, so you can simulate the operation of the entire vessel. This means that the different onboard systems get optimised separately. As they all compete for the same, limited space and power, one risks optimising each one at the cost of the others and ending up with a suboptimal total solution.

In addition, different companies—and even different departments within the same company—have different preferences when it comes to simulation tools. Software often requires a heavy investment, both in terms of time, money and people, so changing tools can be both expensive and risky. The lack of a way to combine different modelling tools is therefore detrimental to collaboration between and within companies.

To the extent that there does exist software which allows one to perform full-system simulations, it is often “monolithic”, meaning that all of the models must be created and run within one software solution, even if it may not be very suitable for some of them. Furthermore, such software is generally expensive and proprietary, which leads to inflexible solutions and vendor lock-in.

The "virtual prototyping" vision

The vision of the ViProMa project is that one should be able to connect models and simulations from all engineering disciplines, created using the preferred tools for each discipline, in full-system simulations. This will allow designers to build a virtual prototype of every vessel—a mathematical/numerical representation of the vessel that is as close as possible to “the real thing”—which can be used to design, test and optimise all subsystems together, against realistic operating conditions and scenarios. This would give designers, ship builders and customers the ability to evaluate and compare the efficiency, performance and cost of different ship designs long before anything actually gets built.

We further believe that a common platform for simulation and modelling will open up new opportunities and arenas of collaboration between companies, between industry and research, between engineering domains, and between market segments.

The primary goal of ViProMa was to develop an open framework for virtual prototyping and simulation of maritime systems and operations. By this, we mean the following:

  • Guidelines and “best practices” for virtual prototyping of maritime systems
  • High-level interfaces for coupling models from different domains (for example, which data should be exchanged for an electrical power connection?)
  • Low-level interfaces for coupling models from different software tools (for example, how can one easily connect a Simulink model to a Modelica model?)
  • Co-simulation software
  • Example models and case studies

The above is what you'll find on this web site. In addition, the project has employed PhD and post-doctoral research fellows who have carried out research on fundamental issues associated with modelling and simulation of maritime systems.

Requirements

The requirements of the virtual prototyping framework were largely defined by the participating industry companies, and can be summarised as follows:

  • It should allow distributed and cross-platform simulations, due to the multitude of systems in use by the industry.
  • It should allow for including humans and hardware in the loop (i.e., as participants in a simulation), to open the door for simulator-based training and hardware testing.
  • It should allow for black-box components, since models may contain sensitive information that should not be exposed more than strictly necessary.
  • Any software developed by the project should be released as free and open-source software.

The ViProMa project was primarily funded (80%) by the Research Council of Norway through its MAROFF research programme (grant no. 225322). The RCN project type was "knowledge-building project for industry".

Vard, Rolls-Royce Marine and DNV GL provided the remaining 20% of the financing. The total budget was NOK 15,000,000 and the project spanned a period from 2013 through 2016.

Participating companies

Key personnel