By Ryan Skinner (email)
I'm a fan of concepts, and the PR drives that accompany them. So I approach new concepts with one part ardor and another scepticism. DNV's new containership concept inspires me to an extent true to its name: Quantum, or "the smallest amount of a physical quantity that can exist independently".
Imagine that the curve below represents the innovations of a particular activity, with the X-axis representing time and the Y-axis performance.
It's called the business S-curve. After a certain amount of time (near the top of the curve), it takes a tremendous amount of time, money and effort to achieve increasingly marginal improvements. At some point, you've got a Saturn V budget to achieve a miniscule improvement to something that, in fact, may be on the way out altogether. I would argue that Quantum is flirting with this kind of irrelevance.
I'm not arguing that container shipping is on the way out. Craig Eason's take on Quantum in Lloyd's List said: "DNV itself recognises that this concept is in some ways designed to stir debate about shipping innovation, to help create a stepping stone to some of the more distant concepts being promoted."
Consider this a piece of that debate. My argument is that new hull shapes, new hull materials, new ways to package a container and these shipping 1.0 ideas are no longer the domain of concepts. These are the domain of stepwise shipping innovation. They're not the stuff of hopes and dreams. They're not turning anything on its head.
My concern with this concept is that it falls into the water trap - not far-sighted enough to be on the green, too far-sighted to line up a good approach to the green. In other words, it isn't wild enough to generate inspirational juice, and yet too wild to open the cash sluices of shipowners.
Someone in shipping would probably say I'm wrong. That this hull shape is the circle squared, or something like that. But, as far as concepts go, I'm eager to see one that deals with something more plastic than steel, metaphorically speaking.