With over 200 delegates from all areas of the marine engineering and technology sector, 25 countries represented and 25 local and international organisations and institutes in attendance, the first International Conference on Marine Engineering and Technology (ICMET) Oman 2019, was deemed highly successful by delegates, sponsors and the Chairman of the Technical Programme Advisory Committee.
The joint conference of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) and the Military Technological College (MTC) Oman, at which 32 technical papers were presented, was held at the MTC campus, Oman.
The three-day event was kickstarted with an inspiring and decorative opening ceremony, attended by Omani government dignitaries, followed by the first keynote speech by Dr Mohammed S. Al-Muwadam giving context to the strategic location of Oman and the role of its naval fleet throughout history.
Setting the tone for the technical topics, the second keynote was delivered by Dr Andrew Tyler, IMarEST President, who explored how we solve the world’s marine challenges with marine engineering, science and technology. Outlining the issues facing the sector, he discussed the six core challenges the industry needs to overcome: climate change, protecting world trade, keeping the oceans clean, ensuring safety at sea, food security and adapting to changing workplace trends.
“We must bring the innovative way of thinking of the youth into our industry and utilise the talent of this next generation of marine professionals" - Dr Andrew Tyler, IMarEST President
Two technical streams ran adjacently throughout, following several core themes: Ship design and propulsion, support and infrastructure, safe automation and remote manning, marine resources and security, naval engineering, sustainability and green shipping and marine professional development.
The event balanced the views and presentations across the sector, exploring the issues from both academic and commercial angles.
ICMET – the highlights
One of the strongest themes to emerge throughout the week, and a thread running clearly through a great majority of the technical papers, was big data and digitisation. Otherwise known as the fourth industrial revolution, it is having a profound impact on the marine world, particularly the naval ship design sector as transpired during discussions.
Its manifestation, enabled by increased computing power and communications, has allowed us to gain a deeper understanding and a level of performance enhancement of tasks that could never have been imagined possible several decades ago. We will gradually see a steady advance through the digital spectrum starting with system-level automation, reconfiguration and optimisation, phasing into remote operational decision-making, remote manning and ultimately to full ship automation.
""This advance is inevitable and inexorable because it makes sound, practical and economic sense through advantages that have been described in many of the papers we have heard” - Frank Mungo, Conference Chair
While revolutionary for the sector, such an exponential technological progression will cause many challenges, not least for developing navies to adopt as discussed by R K Rana of the Institute of Technology New Delhi. Rana divulged there will likely be significant challenges in the education and training of human resources, data storage, data privacy and confidentiality and cybersecurity.
As a digital sub-theme, cybersecurity was continually cited as a hot-topic throughout many of the technical presentations. Amidst the plethora of benefits to the industry, digitisation has also given rise to a growing global threat of cyber attacks that can cost millions of dollars and endanger national stability and human lives. With no maritime-security policy currently in place, the maritime industry is left exposed and at significant risk of attacks.
How the industry could prepare for and mitigate such attacks was discussed at length including how full-scale real-time models could be used to simulate cyber-attacks and help prepare users for a range of different scenarios.
The second core theme that arose was climate change and the drastic need for environmental sustainability. The requirement for industry to change its practices to halt global warming is well known and the path to achieving sustainable marine enterprises was discussed from a multitude of angles.
An interesting perspective was presented by keynote speaker Engineer Ibrahim Al-Nadhairi, Oman Shipping Company, who expressed his concerns as to the significant commercial, financial and operational disadvantages that green shipping presents to shipowners.
While acknowledging the utmost importance of climate change mitigation, he outlined the large-scale shifts happening on three fronts: markets are becoming increasingly unpredictable, regulations are growing in complexity and technology is having an increasingly strong impact on shipping. These are compounding together to incur substantial financial losses and ship owners very clearly view the regulations as too stringent and being implemented in too rapid a timeframe that has not considered the impact it will have on the industry.
Regardless of the financial implications, achieving environmental sustainability will undoubtedly come with substantial engineering challenges. The only viable long term route to sustainability will require fundamental changes in the sources of energy that we use, as was heard in a keynote from MAN Energy Solutions.
By contrast with digitisation, it became apparent there is a lack of incentive to change to more sustainable options and the technology is not yet available to efficiently implement them. Meeting the moral imperative will require legislation and regulation with financial penalties for non-compliance that will change the operational balance. However, someone will have to pay for this as the shipping industry cannot swallow the cost and it will ultimately fall on the direct or indirect consumers of seaborne trade.
Despite this, delegates heard of the many innovative ways in which efficiency can be improved, from changes to gas turbine recuperation to learning lessons from sailfish in modifying hull design.
Improving port performance and design was stated as a key factor in reducing emissions from shipping. Ports and ships are still not completely ‘in-sync’, resulting in unnecessary waiting times and/or unnecessary movements.
Several speakers outlined their suggestions in achieving modifications to achieve enhanced efficiency, including port call coordination, synchronisation and optimisation that could address the potential in aligning ships arrival and departure times and addressing a port’s capabilities to service a ship to reduce waiting times and therefore reduce emissions.
Modern smart ports could offer premium services to ships, passengers, commercial business and the environment through the exploitation of a ‘smart grid concept’. In particular, the importance of a properly designed centralised energy management system that provides supervisory monitoring and control of all energy transactions among providers and consumers as well as their optimised cooperation. However, to achieve substantial environmental benefits there is a vital need to join forces amongst different initiatives.
While such ventures are undoubtedly important, it would appear they merely nibble at the edges of the fundamental issue that can feasibly only be addressed in full through changes in energy source and moving from a carbon economy to a hydrogen economy - not only in the marine sector but globally.
Frank Mungo, Chair, mused over the ramifications of this realisation - “This, I suspect, will become known as the fifth industrial revolution. Like the fourth, it will also throw up its own challenges in safety, security, people and regulation.”
“I would set us a challenge - to target research and analyse these future problems so that when you come back to the next conference you will all be presenting papers that relate to the implementation of a hydrogen economy.”
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