Digitisation at Damen Shipyards:


Read article

Damen Shipyards is working intensively together with partners and clients to digitise and develop smart vessels. Toine Cleophas talked about the challenges and the key to success: ‘Technology gives the push, but people need to make it work.’

As Research Manager at Damen Shipyards in Gorinchem, Cleophas is spearheading ‘Damen Digital’. This programme was established from the ambition to enable remote monitoring of vessels built by Damen. ‘Clients asked for this, but it was also interesting for us to use data to improve our vessel designs. We build some 150 small and larger vessels every year: from fishing boats to luxury yachts and frigates, as well as offshore vessels, tugboats, ferries and work boats.’

With a multidisciplinary team, we compared various technology providers


Multi-disciplinary team

‘For a few years now, shipping companies have shown increasing interest in vessel tracking; to monitor remotely where their vessels are and what they’re doing. We have investigated the technologies that are available for this. This was new territory for us since, as ship builders, we are traditionally not IT experts. With a multidisciplinary team, we compared various technology providers. Data networks already exist on board vessels; for instance, from the engine room to the bridge. The captain can monitor the engine and other components and respond to alerts. For example on an average tug there are some 6,000 information points already available on the bridge. We wanted to be able to send these data quickly and securely via ethernet to the shore. These data need to be compressed, as data transfer at sea is expensive.’

Cloud solution

Damen developed a cloud solution based on Microsoft Azure, which is used frequently in the maritime world. ‘As well as data storage, a cloud solution offers software packages for visualisation; this made this a preferred choice above a data service solution at our office.’ The ship builder has now equipped some 60 vessels with this Connected Vessel Application; a modular design with a high level of standardisation that makes it easy to manage. The advantages for clients go beyond maintenance and fuel savings. ‘Shipping companies use the application to deploy their fleet more efficiently. A tugboat receives a fee for every escort job it performs. If you have greater insight into your tugboats’ locations, you can take on more jobs. One additional tug operation is worth more than a 10% saving in fuel consumption.’

We wanted to be able to share data widely and be able to add new functionalities quickly

Open platform

Data offer insights that are not only interesting for vessel owners and to Damen itself. Engine builders and other suppliers can also use these data to optimise their products. Port authorities use data to make their processes more efficient. In short, the win-win possibilities are huge. ‘That’s why it was important for us to work with open technology to which products from various brands can be connected. We wanted to be able to share data widely and be able to add new functionalities quickly. A pitfall of these kinds of projects is selecting a technology provider whose solution is too narrow.’

Data ownership

Damen makes careful contractual agreements about data processing. ‘All data are in the first instance owned by the shipowner and are not shared with anyone without the shipowner’s permission. Most of our vessels are ‘ready for monitoring’. We deliver the data availability as a service. This means that we manage the data configuration, collection, processing, connectivity, storage and even analytics. We may even manage the monitoring software applications of third parties which run on top of the data.’


Industry standard

Other shipyards are also showing interest in the solution developed by Damen. ‘We aim to develop our solution as an industry standard within EuroYards, a cooperation of Europe’s seven biggest shipyards. A project is initiated to facilitate this and goes with the name of CodeKilo. After all, as shipyards we’re not competing to obtain data, rather we’re competing on using these to build better vessels and services.’

Autonomous sailing

The smarter ports become, the higher the requirements placed on vessel communication capacity. Damen is working on digitisation together with several companies and organisations, including port authorities. Patrol vessel RPA3, which was built by Damen, is currently being used for experimental purposes within the port area with respect to sensor technology and autonomous sailing. These type of developments have really taken off in recent years. In Norway, which is a leader in this area, fully automated freight vessels have been sailing along the coast for some 1.5 years. ‘The technology for autonomous sailing is getting cheaper all the time. Things are moving particularly fast in the engine room and on the bridge. Berthing is still a challenge. We’ll still need deckhands for this in the coming years to this job which poses quite some safety risks.’


The key to success? ‘Collaboration to Win instead of Competition to Win. A partnership model in which all those involved are not thinking first and foremost about their current earning models, but about the earning models of tomorrow. A model within which parties are prepared to share data, because protectionism simply leads to stagnation in our current digital age. Only those who are open will be able to progress.’ This is resulting in a change in mentality, also at Damen: ‘Traditionally, we have been used to view the building of a vessel as a project. Now, it is a service, in which we start long-term relationships with our clients. You need to keep on investing in such relationships. This attitude is tremendously important to the success of the process. Technology gives the push, but people need to make it work.’


Find out with the digital quickscan

Start scan


Your name

Your e-mail

Name receiver

E-mail address receiver

Your message