The National Research Council is betting that its Marine Vehicles Program (MVP) will strengthen the competitiveness of Canada’s beleaguered shipbuilding industry and its related sub-sectors. By applying technologies, design expertise and testing facilities to reduce construction costs, enhance operability and meet increasingly stringent environmental regulations, the five-year, $9.8-million MVP anticipates leveraging an additional $27 million in funding from the private sector, government and other partners.
With the NRC’s dedicated facilities in Ottawa and St John’s, the program offers a comprehensive base of facilities and expertise targeting myriad technical and operational challenges in niche markets such as oil and gas, retrofitting and marine transportation (inland and ocean) as well as the shipbuilding and ship design sectors.
“The shipbuilding industry is dependent on government work … It’s a struggling and under supported sector in Canada,” says MVP lead Fraser Winsor. “The sector’s sub-groups all have unique issues so we engage and add value to reduce costs.”
The marine sector is highly diversified in Canada, given many vessel types used to navigate vast expanses of shoreline, massive continental shelf and inland waters. That makes it challenging to spread the word on MVPs offerings and openness to collaboration. Workshops have been held across Canada in recent weeks to engage the sector’s disparate players.
“Client engagement is a big part of our activity … The major players are creative in how they interact with government and there are several niche markets and all have ways of staying alive,” says Winsor. “Most organizations know what the NRC does from past engagement and they know our facilities but they don’t have the bigger picture. We have expertise in many different areas that we can apply to marine problems.”
By working collaboratively with ship builders, operators and designers, the MVP is drawing on expertise from across the research and technology organization to find solutions to a growing number of technologically-based challenges.
For ships plying the Great Lakes, invasive species and global regulations to inhibit their proliferation have ship operators seeking systems to ensure compliance.
“Ballast water treatment and propagation are required and it currently costs $2-3 million per ship to install systems that often don’t work well,” says Winsor. “To prove these systems can work across varied conditions, we’re working across the NRC to find related expertise.”
Winsor says MVP engineers are also working on control systems — a growing area of NRC expertise — to improve autopilot systems. A current project focuses on Canada’s four long-range patrol submarines with MVP working in conjunction with the Department of National Defence, Defence R&D Atlantic and L-3 MAPPS, a Montreal-based supplier of supplier of control and simulation technologies.
The project entails building a new autopilot system from scratch due to the confidentiality provisions surrounding the original system.
“The project has its origins in one of the submarines at Chicoutimi that caught fire and resulted in a loss of life,” says Winsor. “We developed a submersible system and now plan to build a larger version to trial on open water.”