Press Release

Full speed ahead! Rhenus presents a remote-controlled inland waterway vessel at the National Maritime Conference

Rhenus launched the “FernBin” research project in conjunction with several other project partners, including Argonics, the DST (the Development Centre for Ship Technology and Transport Systems), the University of Duisburg-Essen and RWTH Aachen University, in 2020. The goal was to create extensive inland waterway shipping operations using remote controls. The project group selected the ‘Ernst Kramer’ inland waterway vessel, which was almost 50 years old, as their test object. Rhenus has now presented the remote-controlled vessel to a wide circle of people at the German National Maritime Conference for the first time.

At the FernBin stand in the conference centre, the public could see for themselves the possibilities of remote-controlled inland navigation. (From left to right) Herbert Berger (Managing Director Rhenus Schiffsmanagement GmbH), Dr Alexander Lutz (Managing Director Argonics GmbH), Dr Jan Oberhagemann (Head of Department Autonomous Driving at the DST) with Minister of Economics Robert Habeck.

The ‘Ernst Kramer’ inland waterway vessel is 104.97 metres long, 9.50 metres wide, has a maximum draught of 3.15 metres and is designed to carry cargo weighing 2,273,645 tonnes. Those responsible for the project converted some of the analogue processes on board in order to be able to control the main engine, the rudder, the bow thruster, the radio and radar equipment using radio waves from a distance. Following some initial test operations in July this year, Rhenus has now presented the unusual project at the 13th National Maritime Conference, the leading event organised by the German government to strengthen the maritime economy.

The public were able to gain some idea of the many opportunities opened up by remote-controlled inland waterway shipping on the FernBin stand in the conference centre: skippers, Bernhard Buche und Herbert Berger, navigated the ‘Ernst Kramer’ inland waterway vessel remotely from the operator’s stand at the Bremen Trade Fair Centre. The visitors were able to monitor how the vessel made its way in the Port of Duisburg and the Ruhr estuary via a live link – and everything was controlled remotely. To ensure that the skipper has a precise picture of the situation where the vessel is located, he or she can gain access to all the movement data of the sensor systems and cameras via radio waves from the operator’s stand. “It must be possible to control all the necessary functions for the journey from a distance. So far, this has included the rpm of the main engine, the transmission system, including the clutch, the rudder position as well as the transmission and configuration of the radar image and the radar pilot,” says Lars Reckers, the Technical Inspector at Rhenus Shipping Management, explaining the process. The test journeys enable those involved in the project to recognise which transmitted functions need to be refined or broadened, depending on the scenario. “To achieve this, we also have to see which regions where remote control is possible during the journey and where the reception for mobile communications creates problems” says Lars Reckers. “Authorisation for extensive test operations from the public authorities has therefore been an important step within the project.”

    Pointing the way forwards for the profession

    The prototype of the remote-controlled inland waterway vessel is not only a technical achievement, but also offers significant benefits for the entire profession in future. “A shortage of specialist workers is affecting the inland waterway shipping sector too. Thanks to remote controls, it’s conceivable that some skippers could work from home and therefore make the profession even more family-friendly,” says Lars Reckers. Using remote controls could also create longer operating times for the vessels: while the crew are taking their rest periods, the vessel could continue to be steered from the remote-control centre. The “FernBin” research project will continue until the end of this year – and those involved are seeking an extension for a further three months.

    Technical data for the ‘Ernst Kramer’ inland waterway vessel:

    • Year of construction: 1974
    • Dimensions: length: 104,97 metres, width: 9.50 metres, maximum depth: 3.15 metres, depth empty: 0.731 metres
    • Load-bearing capacity: 2,273,645 tonnes
    • Inner dimensions of cargo hold: 78 metres x 7.36 metres
    • Main engine: Mitsubishi Heavy S16R-MPTA, 1170 kW 1600 rpm

    About Rhenus

    The Rhenus Group is one of the leading logistics specialists with business operations around the globe and annual turnover amounting to EUR 8.6 billion. 39,000 employees work at 1,120 business sites and develop innovative solutions along the complete supply chain. Whether providing transport, warehousing, customs clearance or value-added services, the family business pools its operations in various business units where the needs of customers are the major focus at all times.

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