Each choice you make in designing a subsystem affects every other part of the system

Ein Gespräch mit Giorgio Sulligoi, Andrea Vicenzutti von der University of Trieste über “Electric Ship Technologies in Complex Vessels: Technological Advancements and Their Impact on Ship Design”

Giorgio Sulligoi, Andrea Vicenzutti ,
© Bina Engel

What are you researching?

Sulligoi: We are a group of electrical engineers at the University of Trieste and we do research on electric ship technologies, in particular on power generation and control on ships. So, we work both on single electrical technology systems and components as well as on system design and integration. An increasing number of ships are propelled by very large electric motors. That is something completely different to what we had before. Indeed, between the 1990s and today there has been a transition from using conventional diesel engines and shaft lines for turning ships’ propellers to using diesel engines only to generate power and then transferring this power to the electric propulsion engines. This has been a disruptive innovation in the field, bringing a lot of complexity into the design, because now we have a lot more power that has to be managed on the ship. So you need to increase the voltage of the power distribution systems and you need some modifications on the layout of equipment.

Vicenzutti: To give you an idea of the complexity: a modern cruise ship has more than 4,000 km of cables, and the generators installed on board can produce a total of about 100 MW, which is enough to power a small city.

What fascinates you about this?

Sulligoi: You can find basically every type of modern electric technology on a ship, ranging from generators and big engines to electronic devices, and many of them represent the state of the art for such technologies. So this is very challenging. And on top of that, sometimes you have this kind of disruptive development, and you have to rethink the complete design of the ship.

Vicenzutti: I like the complexity of the system. You have a closed space, limited volumes, and you have to optimize everything. Each choice you make in designing a subsystem affects every other part of the system. It forces you to see the overall picture.

What will be important in maritime research in the next five years?

Sulligoi: There are some aspects which will continue to be important, like trying to reduce waste or the payload of the ship, increasing efficiency, and attending to safety issues.

Vicenzutti: We can always try to improve things further. But I think we are at a point where we also need to focus on the design process because there are a lot of disruptive developments and they render conventional design processes unsuitable. If you want to install something you have never used before, you cannot rely only on well-known processes. You need new processes, too.

Is there something you never get asked but would like to talk about?

Sulligoi: There is a global trend towards so-called electrified transportation, which means that transportation systems are all moving towards using electricity. This is, in my opinion, also true for the maritime industry. Before, the electrical system was one of several systems on board. Now the electrical system is becoming the ship’s core system. It supplies power and controls all of the ship’s functions. So I would like to underline the importance of the knowledge we need to set up good design practices in electrical engineering for ship applications, and to tell students that this is a very promising sector for the future.

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