Scientists Test Hull Cleaning Robot


Researchers at the Endures laboratory in the Netherlands were recently hired by Norwegian technology developer Shipshave to perform tests on the company’s semi-autonomous hull cleaning system.

In a press release published in Hellenic Shipping News, the team concluded that the In-Transit Cleaning of Hulls (ITCH) system did not harm any antifouling hull coatings while also effectively cleaning the ship.

About the Research

The ITCH technology reportedly uses hydrodynamic energy to clean ship hulls underwater while vessels are in transit. 

For the study, several coated panels were treated with two main antifouling coatings, including self-polishing copolymers (SPC) and fouling release coatings (FRC), from three suppliers. These panels were then exposed to natural sea water over a two-month period. 

However, the test simulated one year of monthly proactive cleaning. Layer thickness and surface roughness of the coating was measured before, during and after cleaning. 

Additionally, testing was carried out using four different brushes with varying fiber thickness, placed on different angles on the ITCH system, the team explains.

The newly published test report concluded that “no decrease in coating thickness could be found for all brush types used on all coatings” and therefore that “the ITCH can be used as a tool to remove fouling as it does not influence or reduce the coating thickness.”

While the testing reportedly did show some increase in surface roughness, there was no further increase after initial brushing and the resulting roughness was still well within what is considered acceptable for a “well-performing, freshly coated hull.” Consequently, the “increase in roughness is neglectable from a hydrodynamical point of view.”

The robot offers benefits such as reduced fuel costs and emissions, cut hull inspection and maintenance costs, and ease CII compliance without structural modifications, as well as limit the transfer of invasive species between different ports.

Shipshave’s CEO Aage Hoejmark said the results from the lab tests mirroring real-world conditions corroborate the actual operating experience reported by clients in using the technology. “This consistency between lab results and field performance validates our claims and reinforces customer confidence in our product,” he explains.

“Confirmation from a third party that the ITCH has a negligible effect on fresh hull coatings directly addresses the industry’s concerns regarding impact on the coating. The comprehensive and detailed Endures report will both allay industry scepticism and bolster the already strong trust we have established in the market, encouraging wider adoption of the system,” Hoejmark added.

More Hull-Cleaning Robots

In July of last year, a Sydney, Australia-based startup reportedly developed an autonomous underwater robot that can inspect and clean biofouling on ship hull surfaces.

The Hullbot is “an underwater drone which inspects, maps and interacts with [and cleans] submerged structures,” Tom Loefler, CEO and Co-Founder of Hullbot, told Cosmos.

According to the company, Hullbot enables gentle cleaning with soft brushes early on in the process, to proactively remove early-stage slime before macrofouling begins without damaging the antifouling paint beneath.

According to the company, Hullbot’s ability to perform frequent, light-duty cleaning has the potential to lower the cost of each clean so that it could be done more often.

Hullbot developed a proprietary underwater vision system that used cameras and code, in combination with several other sensors, to enable their robot to efficiently navigate underwater, compared to the limitations of traditional GPS-, WiFi- and 5G-based autonomous systems.

The robot reportedly operates with a tether for power and data and is able to swim freely through the water using its thrusters, cleaning the hull with soft, rotating brushes with both the speed and pressure applied, and is controlled without the need for a human operator.

Also, in October of that same year, Ship ownership and management company Lomar announced a collaboration with Texas robotics company Alicia Bots Inc. to install its robotic autonomous hull-cleaning technology on 15 of its vessels.

According to Lomar, the cleaning technology is meant to reduce hull fouling and reduce fuel consumption, costs and carbon emissions, while also helping test new use cases.

Lomar stated in its news release that Alicia Bots’ multi-purpose magnetic crawler robots were built to work remotely through a tether cable and execute underwater inspection and maintenance tasks on ships and steel structures.

Lomar stated that adopting a proactive cleaning program could potentially lower fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, while also lengthening the service life of antifouling coatings, reducing the point source discharge and cost of reactive underwater cleaning program and prevent the invasion of invasive species.

The company's corporate venture lab, Lomar Labs, was also reportedly involved in the collaboration, giving insight into the development of robotics to support maritime operations, mainly in the push towards establishing autonomous marine drones.

The release stated that Lomar intended for the technology to reduce manned maintenance operations in dangerous environments like underwater diving operations for routine cleanings.


Tagged categories: Antifoulants; Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Equipment rental; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; Marine; Marine Coatings; North America; Program/Project Management; Quality control; Research; Research and development; Robotics; Safety; Ships and vessels; Surface preparation; Surface roughness; Technology; Tools; Z-Continents

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.