09 Dec 2020
This month, we’re stepping back in history to find out the where, why and how of HullWiper’s innovative Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) development. Robert talks to us about where it all began and where he sees the future of hull cleaning heading toward.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live? What are your interests and hobbies? When and how did you become involved in the shipping industry and how did this evolve into the creation of the green ROV unit?
A: I am a 56-year-old mechanical engineer residing in Notodden, Norway who enjoys hiking in the mountains and making knives from scratch in my spare time. I have always been fascinated with Research and Development as well as design. My grandfather was a blacksmith and as a young boy, we designed and built our own kicksled using an engine and tyre with spikes on it.
As I grew up, I worked in many different areas: plumbing, carpentry, welding, working with sheet metal, NDT operating as well as teaching. In 1986, I enrolled in a mechanical engineering course to obtain a degree. I sailed through the course as I already had an extensive background in the theoretical and practical knowledge of the subject matter.
One morning in 1994, I was reading my daily newspaper when I came across an article about the new TBT ban. I immediately saw a need for underwater hull cleaning and started to design my first remotely operated vehicle (ROV) using the theory of a lawnmower. After designing and developing the ROV over 4 years, we completed our first successful, fully-paid cleaning job and so our company, CleanHull AS, was formed.
Q: The HullWiper technology was designed to be a hull cleaning solution for vessels calling in port or at anchorage. What research went into ensuring its design and features would meet the needs of the shipping industry?
A: My background in designing electrical inspection ROV’s helped ensure the design of ROV’s would meet the shipping industry’s needs for alternative methods of hull cleaning solutions. This technology was already approved by the offshore industry, so we had to look at how to bring it closer to port waters. Since this unit needed to operate at all angles, unlike standard units, the challenge was to achieve stability under thrust at all angles.
Q: When did you first start thinking about designing an environmentally friendly ROV unit?
A: In 1998, after several generations and adaptations to the original ROV, I began to see a future and increasing need for eco-friendly, diver free hull cleaning.
Q: When was the final product ready for the market?
A: Our first market-ready product was an electrical driven “CleanROV” which was launched in 2002. After a year in operation, we decided to do a complete redesign to make the unit hydraulics-driven. The first redesigned unit for our international market was launched in 2005 and operated from the Bergen to the Gothenburg coast line.
Q: As the development and production of the unit progressed, what criteria did it have to meet to adhere to the standard of performance needed from an ROV?
A: Our aim was to get operation permits from Sweden as they have the strictest environmental regulations in Europe. For this to happen, our design criteria had to fall in line with their local regulations. This permit, which would be the benchmark used to surpass standard hull cleaning done by divers, would allow us to develop the innovative performance of the ROV to meet the requirements of the shipping industry. Once we received permission in Sweden, we focused our attention on increasing the square meterage covered per hour and reclaiming the system to meet the industry’s demand.
Q: What challenges were faced during the R&D and how did you overcome them?
A: Our biggest challenge during the R&D period was to meet the environmental standards and regulations which basically meant creating a device that more or less emitted no environmental pollution. After many meetings with port authorities and key players in the shipping industry over a two year period, our hull cleaning unit obtained a permit based on European anti-fouling coating standards and regulations.
Q: One of the Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) of the HullWiper ROV is that the device captures removed biofouling via the onboard filter system. What other USPs/features sets this ROV apart from others on the market?
A: Countless changes, modifications and improvements have been carried out more or less every day since 1994. Today we have a semi-automated unit with numerous sensors that give us valuable feedback during the cleaning process. I believe HullWiper is the only unit operating at an almost “fully automated” level.
Q: The umbilical cord on the ROV is yellow so that it can be visible in the water. What other unique safety features does the ROV have?
A: The HullWiper has an auto shut-down mode and a positive buoyancy meaning it will float to the surface over time. The unit is also required to have good water visibility.
Q: What role does ongoing R&D play in the production of current and future ROVs? What additional features have been added since the launch of the first ROV in Dubai in 2013?
A: Since 2013 we have done numerous R&D mainly on the software by using a lot of plug-in devices as a “steering wheel”, similar to a gaming console. If something fails, we go to the “play” shop and buy a new one, then we’re back in business. Software is an ongoing focus for us as well as continuously adapting and improving on our design for onboard solutions.
During one of our R&D processes, the idea of a fully automated unit was born. Theoretically this meant that we could sit in Norway and do the cleaning job if the internet is good enough.
HullWiper is and will always endeavour to provide the greenest, safest and most innovative hull cleaning solutions to the shipping community.
Q: The Online Fuel Calculator is also one of your creations. Why did you see a need to create this and what benefit does it add to ship owners and operators?
A: This calculator has been available for many years and a lot of operators know all these figures but not many charters know the real cost. Awareness is key to budgeting!
Q: What new R&D ideas are in the pipeline that we can share with our readers e.g. converting removed biofouling into fuel pellets for use in countries where there is a shortage of energy for domestic use (is there any progress on this particular initiative)?
A: I would say the onboard solution* will be the future of hull cleaning. Perhaps also smaller units that are easy to launch and clean patches during a port stay. If there is a unit available then you could design a paint designed for “daily cleaning”.
*HullWiper offers an extension of its established diver- and brush-free hull cleaning ROV with an onboard solution which allows ship operators to perform a full or partial clean when needed or as part of a rotation. This solution can be incorporated in the design of new vessels, with allocated space dedicated for the device on deck, on the side of the vessel or using a moon pool. The option adds greater flexibility to the provision of cost-effective and ecologically-friendly hull cleaning for on-demand vessel cleaning.
Q: How important is the ongoing development, and introduction of eco-friendly and innovative technology for the shipping industry?
A: I think it’s extremely important since the shipping industry has a bad reputation as one of the biggest contributors to ocean pollution and global warming. If all vessels could reduce their fuel consumption by 5% (10 tonnes) then they would be able to reduce carbon emission by 36 tonnes. An investment in R&D will also translate into enormous savings for industry and vessels owners alike.
For more information contact the HullWiper team today at [email protected] to find out what we can do for your fleet.