German cruise industry welcomes Rheinmetall Defence aboard

Aida Cruises adopts simulation technology from Bremen

According to the German Travel Association, nearly two million German citizens took an ocean or river cruise in 2012. The country’s cruise lines generated €2.6 billion in sales, an 11% increase compared to the year before. Nearly one in three holidaymakers opted for industry leader Aida Cruises, for many years now Germany’s most successful cruise line.

In cooperation with CSmart Rostock, the company opened a maritime simulation centre at its Rostock location in September 2012. Rheinmetall Electronics GmbH of Bremen supplied the technology for this state-of-the-art facility. By the end of 2013, more than 200 captains and nautical officers had undergone maritime training there.

New course participants are already lining up, because the cruise ship sector is booming. In 2012 Aida’s ten club ships – floating resorts – transported over 630,000 passengers to destinations all over the world. Popular routes include ports of call in the Orient and Southeast Asia, North America, the Mediterranean, Caribbean and the Canaries.

Not least because of the advanced technology on board these ships, passengers can feel safe. Aida captains learn to use this technology with the help of simulators, with a clear emphasis on safe navigation and ship-handling skills. Aida and CSmart Rostock insisted on a very ambitious schedule for commissioning the simulation centre: the opening ceremony took place on 5 September 2012 – the date contractually agreed with Rheinmetall Electronics just nine months earlier.

Verena Kampe and Stefan Vogelsang of Rheinmetall Defence in Bremen are in charge of simulation for AIDA Cruises

Verena Kampe and Stefan Vogelsang of Rheinmetall Defence in Bremen are in charge of simulation for AIDA Cruises

In successfully responding to a request for tenders to supply an advanced, customer-specific simulation system, Bremen-based RME had to overcome three international competitors. “Right from the start, this was a very prestigious project for us – partly because of the name Aida, and partly because it meant getting a foot in the door in the cruise ship market”, declares Verena Kampe, a project manager in the Maritime and Process Simulation department in Bremen since 2003. “In the end, I think it was our overall package and the reference projects from Rheinmetall that made them opt for us. Aida, which after all is Germany’s most successful cruise ship line, is an especially demanding customer”, explains the 37-year-old, Bremen-born Economics graduate.

In total, the order encompassed the supply of five individual simulators: one “full-mission bridge” simulator to serve as the main bridge, and four smaller “part-task” simulators. Among the simulator’s salient features is the fact that the design and layout of the main bridge are oriented to the bridge of the AIDAblu, a cruise ship commissioned in 2010. Not only is the original equipment exactly the same as on board, even the paint on the walls, the carpeting and ceiling are identical. “The level of acceptance by our officers is very high because the simulator is constructed in a very Aida-specific way. At the end of each training session, we specifically ask participants about the degree of realism. The officers apparently feel completely at home on the full-mission bridge. In fact they completely forget that they’re in a training simulator and not on board a ship”, sums up Burkhard Müller, Captain and Director Maritime Simulator Training at Rostocker Kreuzfahrt-Reederei, recounting his experiences with the Rheinmetall simulator.

One of the technical challenges of the project was the first-ever integration of the new “Nacos Platinum” bridge system made by SAM Electronics, which forms the technical core of the bridge. Via a network, this system displays the data for navigation and all of the countless machines and auxiliary systems on board on several computer screens. Incidentally, this Hamburg-based manufacturer is a former Rheinmetall subsidiary; until 2003 SAM Electronics GmbH was known as STN Atlas Marine Electronics GmbH, a component of the Rheinmetall Group of Düsseldorf.

During training on the full-mission bridge, ports such as Hamburg, Bangkok and Singapore are depicted on 220-degree panorama screens. In addition, influences such as sea conditions, wind, currents, various light levels and precipitation can be built into the individual manoeuvres. The part-task bridges are used for training new officers to operate nautical instruments and equipment such as radar systems.

The simulations are designed to feel as realistic as possible to Aida nautical officers and engineers. This is another reason why original equipment from the AIDAblu used in the simulation, e.g. electronic charts and radar. These devices are “stimulated” by fictive signals generated by software made by Rheinmetall Defence Electronics, making the devices “think” that they are operating in a real environment. They react and function exactly as if they were on a real ship. By contrast, in other simulators these elements are only depicted virtually by the software. “The advantage for the customer here is that every switch and every menu in the simulated system corresponds exactly to the original. Most simulators are generic, which means they can be used for various types of ship. But in terms of function and layout, this system is specifically designed for Aida”, explains Stefan Vogelsang, who has worked for Rheinmetall Defence’s Simulation and Training division since 1992 and served as the project’s technical manager.

The project team in Bremen completed the final part of the original contract in November 2013: connecting the machine simulator from Siemens with simulation technology made in Bremen. “During the run-up to the project, we provided Siemens with a specially prepared laptop so that they could test the interfaces with our system. This proved very valuable”, notes Verena Kampe. When the machines and the bridge of the simulator are connected, they are able to fully depict the AIDAblu. Problems in the engine room are immediately detectable on the bridge and require a reaction from the participants.

Looking ahead, Aida plans to continue developing and expanding its fleet and with it, the simulator system. Specifically, the focus is on two members of the new generation of Aida ships. Completion of the first new vessel is scheduled for spring 2015. Its name is already known: the AIDAPrima is destined to be the cruise line’s future flagship.

Rheinmetall recently won a follow-on order for a control panel with operator interfaces that match the new Aida ships. Here, certain ship-specific components have been replaced. In future the captains of the new AIDAprima will be able – and obliged – to undergo training in the simulator too. This speaks for its quality.

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