A ‘ship’ is a gigantic and intricate artefact designed to be self-sufficient in the aquatic ecosystem for an extended period while maintaining a high degree of reliability. Ship design is a sophisticated process that requires involvement from various specialists, all of whom have diverse requirements that are inextricably linked. Before the invention of computers, ship frames were built using reusable templates crafted on drawing boards. With the advent of technology, entire ships have begun to be designed using software. The fathers of naval architecture, Pierre Bouguer (1698-1758) and William Froude (1810-1879) were instrumental in defining some crucial principles of ship design that are now the foundation of the maritime industry.
Moreover, the Digital Revolution has enhanced ships’ efficiency, effectiveness, and safety, making naval architects and marine engineers feel at ease. Waterways have been used for transportation of both passenger and cargo traffic since the dawn of time. Compared to land and air, it is the most cost-effective mode of transportation and is best suited for transporting bulky items across long distances. One of the significant benefits of water transportation is that the oceans are interconnected and traversed by ships of various sizes.
The History of Ship Design
Wind and weather conditions have always been essential aspects of ship design. In 4000 B.C., the ancient Egyptians utilized reed-built vessels, with sails and a mast, for transportation and fishing on the river Nile. Following that, the Greeks developed Minoan ships that were long and narrow. Then came the Roman and Viking ships, which could board hundreds of people and tonnes of armaments. The Spanish and Portuguese created the Nao, Galleon, and Carrack ships in the 16th century with larger hulls, built-in canons, and the ability to travel longer distances.
In the 18th century, ships were equipped with up to fifty canons and resembled the ‘pirate’ ship. During the Industrial Revolution, marine engineers made substantial changes to boost the power of steam engines, which altered ship design. Eventually, ships emerged as the fastest and most powerful in the early 20th century. Furthermore, the World Wars and other global conflicts influenced ship design and naval warfare to a large extent.
In the 21st century, ships can carry thousands of people, large volumes of cargo, and a massive number of weapons and remain in the marine environment for several months at a stretch. Ships have already begun to incorporate reusable and recyclable components so that, in the long run, they can help reduce manufacturing costs. Because fuel accounts for over half of the shipping industry’s operational costs, the type of fuel used to transport ships between ports becomes critical.
Since the 1930s, heavy fuel oil (HFO) has been the preferred fuel source. It is inexpensive and abundant, but it is also filthy. As a result, the marine industry is switching to cleaner oil-based fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG). New materials, advanced protection equipment, cutting-edge systems, and eco-friendly safety devices are becoming more common in the race for a ‘green’ future. Though shipping accounts for only 3% of carbon dioxide emissions, other pollutants like sulphur and particulate matter raise questions.
Today, various navigation systems are available on modern passenger and cargo ships. The availability of refrigerated spaces for perishable commodities has also boosted freight transit. Current design priorities are controlling wastewater runoff, efficient lighting systems, environment-friendly hull design, and zero discharge. It is now necessary to undertake an environmental impact assessment of ships and adapt ship design accordingly to control the carbon footprint. Ships have never been so intelligent, efficient, reliable, and safe as they are today.
The Future of Ship Design
The future of the marine sector is ‘green’ and ‘autonomous’ shipping. This autonomous ‘smart’ ship is all set to shape the future as the smartphone did. The use of artificial intelligence, sensor technologies, and control algorithms is on the rise. Continuous improvements in automation and digitalization have opened new possibilities for autonomous ship design. Future ships would keep track of their health, interact with other vessels in the vicinity, make decisions and securely navigate to their destination.
Additionally, they would be powered by solar and wind energy, apart from being highly automated. In the quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ships may see an increased use of biomethane, ammonia, and hydrogen as potential marine fuels. Vessels will not only be fueled differently but will also be monitored and controlled remotely.
Sooner or later, we might end up living on ships permanently. Residential units, schools, hospitals, restaurants, retail spaces, banks, casinos, swimming pools, offices, hotels, a helipad, and even an airport might all be part of the future ship’s artificial ecosystem. Unlike life on land, these ‘floating’ cities will cruise around the world indefinitely, similar to a world tour. The concept designs are currently around half-finished. However, whether it is land or water, affordability will remain a concern!