Why have barges been built of heavy steel for over one hundred years? The only real innovation in barge construction in the past century occurred when welding replaced rivets. Off-shore platforms and ocean-going vessels such as tankers and cruise ships can also benefit from new construction techniques.
TNO's Centre for Mechanical and Maritime Structures is developing a material that is a combination of thermoplastic and steel plating. Initially considered an impossibility, this revolutionary material can decrease a ship's weight by up to forty percent. A weight savings of this magnitude results in a corresponding increase in tonnage, meaning the costs can be quickly recovered. The ships have a shallower draught and are also more durable. Moreover, the use of plastic is only reasonable given the increasing scarcity of metal.
In combining metal and plastic, TNO experts need to develop techniques to overcome scientific and practical barriers. Hulls consist of welded panels. The heat required for welding melts plastic, however. The latest welding techniques and other innovations are bringing scientists ever closer to a workable solution.
The Dutch shipbuilding industry is getting a real boost from these and other construction innovations from the labs of TNO. The industry could potentially soon boast of a new global export product.