Maersk Tankers to use drones to slash costs

Maersk Tankers, part of Danish Maersk Group, has resorted to using drones to cut costs for deliveries at sea and has completed the first test drone delivery of urgent parcels to a vessel at sea near Kalundborg in Denmark.

With the first delivery completed in late January, further tests will now follow before the new drones can become a part of the company’s supply chain. The savings would be achieved as time and costs for urgent parcels delivery to vessels and vessel inspections would be reduced, as the company would not need barges any more.

In addition, the use of drones would simplify the overall delivery process as predicting of tankers’ next ports of call can be complicated.

“Costs for a barge are on average USD1,000 and can easily go up to USD3,000 or more. With the current payload of drones, on average a vessel has 3 cases per year in which the barge transport could be substituted by a drone – meaning a potential avoidance of barge costs of USD 3,000-9,000 per vessel per year. And if you consider that Maersk Tankers has around 100 vessels, the savings potential could be substantial,” says Markus Kuhn, Supply Chain Manager at Maersk.

The drone used for the test was from the French company Xamen and ATEX approved (zone 2). Due to bad weather conditions, it was not possible to launch the drone from the shore as planned, but the parcel was instead successfully dropped from 5m onto the vessel after having flown in from a tugboat. The test took place at Kalundborg and was approved by Danish authorities, the company said.

“It is fundamental that any drones used by Maersk Tankers are safe for the environment they are operating in. They must be certified as intrinsically safe for most tasks, so they cannot create any spark, even if they were to crash. Some inspections can pose risks if performed by humans. If drones are approved for tank inspections, it will improve safety on tankers and potentially in other oil-related installations,” says Kuhn.

As well as delivering urgent parcels, drones have the potential to be used for inspections e.g. to take high quality photos or videos of certain areas to identify cracks. Such potential early findings could avoid higher expenses if problems are only discovered later.

“There is a lot of potential for all Maersk businesses. For instance, Maersk Oil and Drilling already testing drones for inspections of i.e. flare tips or other installations. APM Terminals and Maersk Supply Service are also starting to look into it,” the company added.


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