23 August 2019

Digitisation is making its presence felt in all industries, throughout the world. The maritime industry is no exception. Thanks to technological advances there is vastly more information available on the operation of vessels today than there was historically. In many ways, this can make operations safer; if an operator is well informed about the vessel’s performance, limitations and general condition then this information can contribute to well-informed decision-making.

However, digitisation also poses a challenge to safety. The sheer volume of information available can threaten to overwhelm the operator.

Damen has developed a Human Machine Interface (HMI) that gives the crew the relevant information when it is needed and where it is needed. And it is an intuitive and fully integrated class approved system that is as easy to operate as your mobile device.

damen rsd 2513 multratug computer

What you need... When it's needed

“This is especially needed with towing and escort operations,” says Jeffrey Jacobs, technical manager at Damen’s product group Tugs. “Such work involves carrying out complex, risky manoeuvres in all conditions. Decision making has to be quick, despite being under pressure, so any information has to be clear and relevant to that particular stage of the operation, while the ease of operating the system requires an intuitive and simple interaction.”

For example, during a towing operation, the system will present only crucial alarms related to, for example, engine oil pressure and cooling water temperature – the things that are of most importance to the operation. Furthermore, it will identify the difference between a situation whereby the operator should be informed and a situation where something critical is happening – freeing the operator’s attention for the task at hand such as operating the winch, safe in the knowledge that they will be notified if necessary.

What you need... Where it is needed

Different roles on board vessels require different information at different locations. The nautical dashboard provides the captain with all the information relevant to navigating the vessel. The technical dashboard is designed to be the landing page for the chief engineer, displaying the health status of the main propulsion system while enabling control of the equipment most often used. The primary ship’s systems are presented in such a way that more detailed information is displayed in one simple overview that is easy to read, analyse and control. Information and control are available throughout the vessel, when and where they are needed.

As simple as that

Naturally, for such a system to be effective, it must be easy to operate. Something that Damen has taken great care to ensure.

“We’ve created a system that is as easy to use as an everyday mobile device – making sailing not only safer, but optimally efficient. Despite this simplicity, the HMI is fully integrated, covering all systems throughout the entire vessel. This is part of Damen’s philosophy – we are not just the shipbuilder, we are the integrator of the entire package, including all onboard equipment, from the very start and throughout the lifecycle of the product.”

Thanks to full integration, although the system presents only the relevant data as required by the time and situation, all other information is available on demand. This means that it can be processed at an appropriate time by the chief engineer.

A listening ear

In developing the system, Damen has worked closely with its partners – clients and suppliers – to develop a product that is truly relevant for now and for the future.

“We’ve always listened to what our clients have to say,” continues Jeffrey. “This is a key characteristic of Damen. To create an HMI designed for the user, we had to know exactly what is taking place and what is required during each operation, therefore working closely together with the end-user was considered one of the keys to success for the entire project.

"Working together with our customers we identified precisely what information it is they are seeking for each aspect of their operation – as well as how best to present it to them."

“To ensure the success of the system we have worked closely with design agency VanBerlo, a company highly experienced in product development based on user experience. Together we analysed the feedback we received from the market and developed the HMI as the natural solution to this.”

VanBerlo specialises in the development of products based on empathy with the user. Before getting to work on the development of Damen’s HMI system, VanBerlo personnel took part in simulated tug operations and sailed aboard a tug in the Ports of Rotterdam and IJmuiden. While on board they were able to ask questions of the crew and observe their actions – witnessing, for example, how their attention and actions are distributed during an operation, enabling development of a finely tuned solution.

vanberlo alarm and monitoring system

Tugboat alarm and monitoring system

The redesign of the AMCS HMI was not originally intended to be as rigorous as it became,” says Pieter de Wit, senior strategist digital transformation at VanBerlo. “The original objective was to give the HMI a Damen look and feel, but to really fulfill the ambition of Damen to make tugboat operations more safe and efficient it required putting the users at the centre of the design process and focusing on what the operations really require. I was very pleased with the fact that the team was open to making the HMI a better fit with the user context through the involvement of captains and engineers in the design process. We needed to take tough decisions and change the way the software was configured, thereby changing the way it had previously worked. Seeing the dedication and perseverance that was devoted to the task made me very proud to be part of the team.”

vanberlo tugboat alarm and monitoring system

Tugboat alarm and monitoring system

Taking the next step with it on board

“Over the coming years the importance of IT on board and digitisation within the maritime industry will increase significantly,” says Janno de Wit, manager IT for the Damen product group Tugs. “To be ready for this, some major steps in software development have been taken by Damen with the introduction of the new HMI.

“For example, we developed a Vessel Application Programmable Interface (API). With this API it is possible to separate the user interface from the back-end subsystems such as the vessels Alarm Monitoring & Control System (AMCS) and Winch control.

“From the user interface perspective, we would like to use the latest technologies available to develop applications for a range of devices on board the vessel and ashore. We expect rapid development in the creation of the best user experiences possible, while with the back-end multiple types of platforms will be able to be connected with their own proven performance and functionalities. By taking this step, we will be able to speed up the development of our applications; apps that will enable our customers to increase the safety and effectiveness of their operations,” continues Janno.

"During the development of the API we faced several challenges to integrate the systems and make sure that the robust design and reliability of the current AMCS system was still maintained. The key to success was working closely with our full committed partners, where great efforts were made by VanBerlo, Praxis Automation and Damen. This resulted in a full class-approved system, still running on the proven technology of Praxis Automation."

Commonality as standard

This is not the only area in which Damen’s HMI system conforms to the group philosophy. It is also a standard product.

“We believe in series building. It’s been the key to Damen’s success from the early days. Why reinvent the wheel, when you know something works? The best thing to do is built on a strong foundation,” Jeffrey states.

That being the case, Damen developed a system, based on extensive industry feedback, that brings all existing systems and equipment together in a standardised package.

"The benefits of this are significant. It makes for the rapid installation of a proven product – even as a retrofit. And, with complete commonality, crew members are quickly familiar with the HMI, not only on a single vessel, but across the entire fleet."

Tried and tested

The process of feedback and development lasted over two years. Now, the system has already been tested aboard Multraship’s Multratug 6 with good results. “Our philosophy is to create a system based on sound knowledge, test it in-house, turn it into a standard package and then, when we are confident it is ready, put it on board our customers’ vessels.”

Future ready

The Damen HMI is not only compatible with current systems, it is also prepared for the future, as Jeffrey explains.

“The system will be launched with Electric Stability Protection (ESP). This will measure the vessel’s performance against its capabilities and signal to the operator when they approach a critical limit.”

“It’s also prepared for future evolution. This will come in the form of cyber-security updates, much like the ones we are already familiar with on our personal devices. In this case, however, the decision of when to access the updates will always lie with the operator. After all, this system is about giving them as much control as possible.”


Breaking news!

Damen’s HMI system has won the ‘Product 2019 category in this year’s UX Design Awards. The awards will be presented during a ceremony taking place at the global technology show IFA in Berlin on 6 September 2019. Damen will also be demonstrating the system to the public as part of a special exhibition at the show.

Users worldwide now have the opportunity to vote for their favorite solutions. Voting for the audience prize “UX Design Award | Public Choice” opened on 20 August and continues until 31 October 2019 on the UX Design Awards website. The winner of the audience prize will be announced in November 2019.


RSD Tug 2513 "Multratug 6"
Damen HMI system
Ports of Rotterdam
UX Design Awards

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