The global shipbuilding industry has long been dominated by Europe, but a shift toward new ship construction in Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and China is under way. A consortium of 18 international entities called FIBRESHIP EU was launched in June 2017 to ensure that Europe remains a shipbuilding leader.

“The idea of the project is to consolidate the position of the shipbuilding industry in Europe. To do that you need to bring all the stakeholders together – shipbuilders, classification societies, engineers and so on,” says Anthony Comer from the School of Engineering and the Irish Composites Centre at the University of Limerick. “Composites are going to play a central role.”

The main objective of FIBRESHIP is to develop a new European-based market for large-length seagoing and inland ships made from FRP materials. To achieve this objective, the project will do the following:

  • Develop, qualify and audit innovative FRP materials for marine applications
  • Establish new design and production guidelines and procedures
  • Devise efficient production and inspection methodologies
  • Develop new validated computational analysis tools

FIBRESHIP is one of the largest innovation projects funded by the European Union, with a budget of €11 million (nearly $13 million). Consortium partners represent 11 countries and include three classification and certification organizations, four shipyards, three research centers, four ship owners and four companies specializing in shipbuilding architecture and engineering. Comer is lead principal investigator on the project’s composites element, while his colleague from the University of Limerick, Ioannis Manolakis, serves as co-investigator and project manager.

“Our role revolves around material selection – looking at a wide range of resin systems, fiber systems and core materials,” says Comer. “This is a high-level TRL [technology readiness level] project, so we are looking at materials that are already on the market or very close to market. The aim of the project is to have these vessels in the water sooner rather than later.” At the end of the three-year FIBRESHIP project, the partners plan to have a demonstrator FRP component, as well as a knowledge base and tools that shipyards can utilize to build ships.

While the marine industry was an early adopter of composites, most FRP-intensive structures to date have been limited to pleasure boats, ferries, patrol boats and rescue boats under 50 meters long. FIRBRESHIP intends to fill in the technology and knowledge gaps to demonstrate the feasibility of using FRP materials to construct the entire hull and superstructure of ships longer than 50 meters for three vessel categories: light merchant ships, passenger transport and leisure ships, and special service vessels.