Marina Vela: first robotised dry dock in Europe

Marina Vela will soon inaugurate the most modern dry dock in the world. It is an automated system that identifies vessels, lifts them and puts them into a warehouse with a system of robotic arms and rails, leaving them in their personalised berth using a system of cranes and conveyor belts. This cutting-edge technology has many benefits not only for those who love sailing, but also for residents and the environment.

Posted on 12.13.2018
Marina Vela during its construction process [Image by Port de Barcelona]

Marina Vela is the recreational marina in Barcelona, which opened its doors this past summer. It is located at the northern mouth of the port, next to Hotel W (the emblematic building designed by Ricard Bofill, often called the Sail) and Plaça Rosa dels Vents, near the Barceloneta neighbourhood. With this new facility, the Barcelona Port Authority aims to open this port up to residents, with new public, retail and recreational spaces, in addition to providing more berths.

With a view to residents

"Wanting to open up sailing to everyone and make the marina a public space open to residents involved making them a priority without, of course, taking away berths for the vessels," explains Lluís Pascual, telecommunications engineer and head of the project. "The solution was to create a dry dock that would multiply the number of vessels stored while minimising the impact on the landscape." So, in collaboration with Idasa and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, we developed a fully automatic dry dock with space for 222 vessels up to 9 metres in length and 4 tonnes in weight.

"This system allowed us to add more berths while also helping us create a more dynamic setting for pedestrians." The automated dry dock system has robotic arms, inspired by those used in industries like the automotive sector, which lift the vessel and put it into a tunnel leading into the dry dock. This way, "they pass over the marina road without bothering pedestrians, shops or restaurants, which will all soon bring life into this area." Having chosen this sophisticated system, therefore, will allow residents and tourists alike to enjoy this space even more. Once inside, a system of cranes transports the vessel to its personalised storage space.

The automated dock system has robotic arms, inspired by those used in industries like the automotive sector, which lift the vessel and put it into a tunnel leading into the dry dock.

Those in charge of this project had to do a lot of research to make it possible. There are very few examples of automated dry docks with characteristics similar to the one that will soon open its doors in Barcelona: The Port Marina, in Fort Lauderdale (Florida, the United States), developed by Maffstack over more than 10 years, is one of them. This marina, which is smaller than the one at Marina Vela, is also automated, using a system based on sensors and lasers to guide the movements of the boat. At the Florida facility, public use of the marina was not the priority. The most important was how to protect vessels from the hurricanes that often hit this region. As there weren't any other references in the nautical world, explains Lluís Pascual, in developing the system they looked to "facilities like robotised logistics warehouses, which many companies have, for example in the automobile industry."

Personalised service 24 hours a day

The robotised dry dock also provides better service for users than a traditional dry dock, as it can be personalised. "When a client decides to leave their vessel here, the first thing they have to do is an adjustment manoeuvre with the system. This calibrates the machine to adapt it to the characteristics of each boat, including the length, height and width." This information is used to create a unique ID tag for each vessel. "When a vessel arrives at the marina, the system identifies it and adapts the transport elements to its characteristics. It also takes it to a personalised berth, minimising the impact on the hull while it is at Marina Vela," explains the technician.

Before entering the storage area, "the hull is cleaned with pressurised water to eliminate any salt, which could damage it. Then it is dried with fans to prevent the dampness from getting into the facility," explains Pascual. All of these options (cleaning the hull, lifting the boat with robotic arms, transport inside the dry dock to its personalised berth) are done in record time: just five or six minutes. Moreover, only one person is involved in the whole process (who, in fact, simply supervises the operation and makes sure that there isn't anyone still in the vessel when it enters the facility). This means the dry dock can run continuously. To make sure the service can be provided with very little human intervention and as quickly as possible, "a smartphone app has been created for boat owners to book their timeslot to drop off or pick up their vessel from the marina."

All of these "technological advances," Pascual believes, "will allow us to provide better service for recreational sailors," but also comprise a more sustainable solution environmentally, as the system offers more berths in less space, as well as minimising the impact on the marine environment. In short, after in-depth study, "it is the most sustainable solution, both economically and environmentally, that we could find."