Maersk Tankers is testing delivery to vessels on drones that have been certified for explosive environments. The purpose of this test is to use a drone that is already ATEX approved for potentially explosive environments, and see how the concept works.
The first test in Denmark involves a delivery of cookies. Offshore in Denmark’s Great Belt, the drone quickly gains height into the misty white. It motors quickly over the short divide between barge and tanker, hovers 5 meters above the deck and drops its cargo of Maersk cookies on to a designated landing spot. The original plan to launch from shore was changed because the fog, so the team worked from the barge instead.
The test, in collaboration with Bauer’s drone maker Xamen Technologies, was the first using a drone to make a delivery on board a vessel.
“We are very early in the process and we need to be sure the technology works safely,” says Kuhn. “It’s often quite challenging to get things on board. So I was a happy man when the test worked out fine.”
Drones must be safe for the environment they are operating in and for Tankers certified as intrinsically safe, so they cannot create any spark even if they were to crash.
The use of drones is cost-effective as it can be complicated and expensive to deliver items to vessels as they are not alongside the quay.
Costs for a barge are on average $1,000 and can be higher. That means, drone use could with the current payload bring potential savings of $3,000$-9,000 per vessel per year, Maersk Tankers estimates.
“Drones can make savings in both costs and time. There are high costs for on-board delivery of small parcels, filled with urgent spare parts or mail, because of the need for a barge,” says supply chain manager Markus Kuhn.
The next steps for Maersk Tankers and the Maersk Group are to evaluate the test findings. Drone technology is developing rapidly and the Group Technical Innovation Board has slated this area as one of five projects to commence in 2016 as part of an effort to develop a pipeline and culture of early-stage technical innovation.
On board Maersk Edgar, Captain Peder Georg Kastrup Christensen hands out the freshly-delivered Maersk cookies, which survived the trip unbroken.
“It’s a totally new step in delivery to vessels,” says Captain Christensen. “Today it’s cookies. Another time it might be medicine which we need to treat someone on board.”