Ship Designer and Engineering Company, Foreship, Using Drones to Help Measure Cargo Ships Weight

If you drive along any major stretch of highway throughout the United States, chances are you will spot a truck weigh station. More than 15 milllion trucks crisscross across the country transporting goods. Making sure these trucks have their weight evenly distributed is critical. Often, shipping companies will overload a truck hoping to save costs by limiting the number of trucks needed to be dispatched. Studies show that when trucks are overburdened with cargo they are more prone to accidents. Tires can burst from the extra weight or trailers can become unbalanced. This is why weigh stations are important, to make sure trucks are carrying an appropriate weight load. A truck simply needs to pull up to the weigh station and they are automatically sitting atop scales.

Similarly, cargo ships need to keep track of their weight loads to prevent accidents from happening. The world’s merchant fleet of cargo ships numbers close to 54,000 vessels. When a ship is carrying too much cargo, its density becomes more than what can be supported by the water. This often results in the emergency need to dispose of cargo crates into the ocean, if not the ship will capsize or sink. Unfortunately, calculating a ship’s weight is not as simple as weighing a truck at a weigh station.

The term for calculating a ship’s weight is called a draught survey. A draught survey measures the displacement of water along the hull of a ship. To be able to conduct a draught survey a vessel needs to be at a standstill in calm water. Numbers denoting depth are painted on the side of the ship. The higher up the ship’s keel the water reaches, the heavier the ship is, the cargo increasing the density of the ship. The numbers provide a visual way to confirm how much water is being displaced by the ship, allowing it to maintain optimal buoyancy.

Founded in 2002, with its main headquarters in Helsinki, FI, Foreship has become one of the most respected ship design and engineering companies in the world. They provide a wide range of shipping services and pride themselves on using cutting edge technology to get the job done with the highest degree of safety standards. To streamline draught surveys, Foreship began testing how drones can be utilized to take draught measurements. As Markus Aarino, Chief Naval Architect at Foreship explained, the typical way draught surveys are conducted requires a small work or rescue boat to be lowered from the vessel into the water with a crew on board. Even though this is the way drought surveys have been conducted for years, there are several drawbacks to the method.

Lowering a crew in a boat from the main vessel always puts lives at risk, something crews try to avoid doing whenever possible. It is also very time consuming to take draught surveys like this. First, the ship’s operators have to wait until the vessel has come to a complete stop before even lowering the small boat, one slow inch at a time. Then the survey crew has to get into position, set up their equipment, and wait for waves to subside as much as possible. Retrieving the survey boat takes even longer than it does to lower it to the water surface. Meanwhile, readings are not always accurate and every minute spent taking the measurements ultimately costs the shipping clients money. To solve these issues, Foreship has left the water and taken to the sky with drones.

Drones have proven useful inspection tools across many industries, and the shipping industry should be no different figured Foreship. “Drones are fast and highly maneuverable and can be controlled from a remote location. This eliminates the need for a survey boat, saving time and increasing safety,” Mr. Aarino said. “The technology also allows greater accuracy, because even in choppy waters, the video footage captured by the drone allows us to determine the draught reading correctly.” A certified drone pilot can operate the drone from the deck of the ship. In a matter of minutes, the drone is done collecting images and the operators can resume their journey. A process that would have manually taken up to an hour or more, can now be completed in a fraction of the time.

After successfully testing the drones over the last few months, Foreship now offers drones for draught surveys as part of their regular services. “Our application of drones in performing draught surveys represents a new and highly focused way of applying digital technology to provide better accuracy in surveys,” Mr. Aarino said. “The procedure can be carried out at any port or shipyard where permission to operate drones can be obtained, and our positive early discussions with classification societies suggest that receiving class approval will not be an issue.” As drone regulations continue to lift, seeing drones flying about a port will likely be just as common as seeing a flock of seabirds.

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