Innovative Ship Building

Harwood Marine

Harwood Marine is on the cusp of realising and incorporating a revolutionary technological change. Millions have been spent in research and development in the hopes of developing a new technology for Air Lubrication that will change the way the shipping and marine industry operates. Not only will this technology reduce costs associated with marine travel, but it will also genuinely help to reduce toxic emissions and greenhouse gasses through reduced fuel usage. It is called WAIP (Wing Air Induction Pipe technology) and the company has encountered a lot of naysayers.

We spoke with Managing Director Ross Roberts to get a better idea as to what’s causing all the fuss and to learn about the company behind it.

Australian owned and managed Harwood Marine began as a shipping company operating in the South Pacific. As it grew, the need to branch out became obvious so it entered into the construction side of the business. The company began making small vessels as Harwood Slipway and Engineering in Harwood Marina but the demand for different types of vessels warranted a new division separate from the shipping side. Harwood Marine itself became a standalone ship building and repair company that continued to grow and is now based out of Queensland and the Philippines.

As part of its business plan, Harwood Marine developed a shipyard in Cebu, Philippines. Ross explains, “When building yachts, we found that our quotes would be twice what they were in Asia. 50 per cent of the value of a ship is to build it and the other 50 per cent is what it costs for the rest of its life. Our building costs were too high because we were not operating out of an Asian shipyard. So, we went to the Philippines because we were invited up there. It was an attractive proposition because of all the different Asian countries it has the highest proportion of English speakers,” thus making for easy communication. The education and skill levels were high in the Philippines, and the country possessed a large labour pool. The decision to move there was obviously not a difficult one, and has proved very advantageous to the company.

Not all corporations are environmentally friendly; many cut corners in order to guarantee the maximum profit potential. Harwood Marine, however, has seen to it that environmental sustainability is a major part of its agenda. The company has made strides in protecting the environment by developing a blasting and painting facility on their site. Due to the remote location, the transport of necessary materials had to come by truck. “What we found was that we built this environmentally compliant recycling blast chamber. It used to cost us $50.00 to bring a bag of sand blasting sand here-when used it would go all over the ground, and it needed to be cleaned up. By putting it through the sand blasting machine we end up getting 10 uses out of it. It’s not just the value of the sand, but the freight and the cleanup. We have dramatically reduced our costs, have helped the environment and got a better product.” It has turned out to be a great investment and earned Harwood Marine an EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) certification.

The company is involved with another innovation with the potential to help the environment – WAIP. When wind hits the water, waves or surf is produced. This disturbance aerates the water, creating fine air bubbles which cause the water to appear milky. Propellers on boats get into trouble in these waters because there is no traction with so much air in the water. Putting this phenomenon to practical use is Wing Air Induction Pipe technology. If these air bubbles are made underneath the boat, friction is reduced and it will glide through the water – Air Lubrication. Making the bubbles can take a lot of energy if a compressor is needed, using both fuel and electricity, but with WAIP a compressor is not needed. Too much air under the ship pushes it upwards, but if the bubbles can be made small enough then buoyancy will not be an issue. The Wing Air Induction Pipe technology reduces the buoyancy and drag.

The Japanese inventor of WAIP and professor at Tokyo University, Professor Takahashi, has also worked on submarines for the Japanese navy, nuclear reactors and was the chief engineer for Japan’s IHI Corporation during the 80s. His teacher was Dr Inui, the inventor of the modern Bulbous Bow (the protruding bulb at the bow of a ship that modifies the way water flows around the hull, reducing drag, and thus increasing speed, range fuel efficiency and stability). One can see where the inspiration came from, and now Professor Takahashi wants to follow in his teacher’s footsteps.

Professor Takahashi uses what is called “Winged Air.” He achieves this through a phenomenon called Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability. This can be seen at the interface between air and water moving at different velocities causing a cloud of super fine bubbles, or micro-bubbles. If these bubbles are created at the front of the boat then you can drive the ship right through them, and the bubbles adhere to the side of the ship, which means less drag. This has been proven in trials, and has helped to cut emissions by 10 per cent with the potential for more. The problem is that it has not yet been accomplished on a full scale, with larger ships. Presently it has been proven on 80 metre ships meaning that it is only a matter of time until the technology can be transferred onto the larger vessels.

Maersk is the biggest shipbuilder in the world. It has experimented with Wing Air Induction Pipe technology on a larger vessel. After going through some trials, it seems there is still work to be done. But, it has said that if successful, it will save $600,000,000 per year in fuel consumption. “And that’s only fuel. If you start to think about carbon taxes you are saving another $69 per tonne of fuel burned. Large ships burn about 50 tonnes per day, so the savings can be enormous.” Maersk is still interested in working with WAIP which speaks to the importance this technology can attain.

The bottom line here is that up to 20 per cent could be saved off of fuel costs. Fewer greenhouse gas emissions also means fewer carbon taxes. Engine maintenance costs will also go down; it will also take less time to get from point A to point B. This technology has been proven on 80 metre ships and simply needs more time to enable it to work on larger ships.

The biggest obstacle for Harwood Marine is to convince governments or anyone else for that matter to invest in this potential. “We have done our own trials at Harwood, but we are a little company and do not have the resources to fund this technology.”

Earlier this year Ross Roberts travelled to Turkey with Professor Yoshiaki Takahashi speaking at the “Smooth Ships” conference at the Turkish University. “The eyebrows were raised. What we are talking about is revolutionary, but I spend a lot of time with people who look at me sideways. We really need the big ship companies to get behind this. They need to recognize how this would save the industry! Let’s throw some money at it.” In speaking with ship owners, “I asked each ship owner about how much they spend on R&D? Nearly all of them said per cent. They are waiting for someone else to do it.” He adds, “Everyone wants the invention and the technology, but who is going to put the money up?”

Other current projects Harwood Marine is working on include aluminium line and pilot boats for the Australian ports. “We are also working on multipurpose vessels. Imagine a square tugboat with cranes and drilling rigs. They are very versatile for working in ports. They are used for pipe laying. We are also using truckable barges at 12 metres by 3 metres. We had a surge in the market due to the Queensland floods because everyone had to pump out their mines which were all inland. So, little barges were needed that could be moved on trucks. We launched a big vessel up in the Philippines – a passenger/cargo ship. It was quite unique because it could do everything that a passenger/cargo ship could do.”

Harwood Marine is a dynamic company, growing in many different areas. It is also a company that operates without debt or loans, a testament to its solid business plan. Harwood, however, is much more then this… it is a company on the verge of greatness, with the potential to make a huge difference in the way shipping companies do business.

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December 19, 2018, 9:24 AM AEDT