A new walk-to-work gangway design is providing a boost to operators via AI technology
Walk-to-work specialist Uptime demonstrated a new 30 m-long gangway design to an audience of vessel owners and operators at its Avaldsnes facility in Norway at the end of August. The demonstration showcased the smart technology that enabled the active heave motion-compensated gangway to perform. These included performing a push-on landing autonomously and demonstrating the automatic slip-off detection functionality.
The demonstrator gangway, the first of its type, is destined to be mounted on board an as-yet unnamed Bernhard Schulte Offshore (BSO) service operations vessel, currently under construction by Norwegian builder Ulstein. A second gangway of the type has been ordered by OSV operator Island Offshore for a work scope with Norwegian major Equinor, formerly known as Statoil.
Offshore Support Journal spoke to BSO managing director Matthias Mueller and Uptime International managing director Åge Højmark to understand how the new system will enhance the capabilities of motion-compensated walk-to-work systems and how technological enablers can help improve operations.
BSO’s new vessel, which will be the first to mount the new gangway model, is set for delivery in time for a number of windfarm maintenance campaigns in 2020, says Mr Mueller, who notes that the SOV will be capable of operating in traditional oil and gas markets as well as supporting offshore renewables.
The company puts a high value on digital enablers of vessel optimisation, including a proprietary system from its IT division called MariApps smartPal, that combines functions such as crewing, payroll, maintenance, document management and insurance into a single integrated solution. The next stop on BSO’s digitalisation journey will be to bring onboard equipment into the smartPAL system to trigger events such as maintenance planning and supporting crew in operational decision making, says Mr Mueller.
As a vessel owner in the wind market, it is important to develop walk-to-work operations in a way that enhances efficiency for charterers, he adds, noting that technologies such as the autonomous landing capability in Uptime’s new gangway can aid in this.
Following a trial period with the new system, BSO may consider retrofitting some of its capabilities to pre-existing gangways, Mr Mueller added.
The new system benefits from three technological enablers, all ‘firsts’ for active-compensated gangways: an automatic slip-off detection system; an integrated motion-compensated crane; and an autonomous landing system.
“Removing the possibility of human error by use of technology, that’s really what this is all about,” says Uptime International’s Mr Højmark, adding: “Yes, you still have an operator there to provide commands and input, but the system will take care of critical operations itself, and you’re not 100% dependent on a fully awake and alert operator at every second.”
The autonomous landing system uses stereoscopic cameras and other sensors to identify acceptable landing spots on a structure, based on distance from the gangway-end to the landing point, and the vessel position relative to the landing point. These are then passed on to an operator for approval. Once this is given, the control system starts up the gangway’s hydraulic power unit, extends the gangway and connects it, all fully autonomously with no further input from the operator.
Artificial intelligence (AI) means the gangway learns from each landing operation, improving its ability not only to identify preferred landing spots but also the best method of approach. To start off, the operator will manually select the landing spot; as more landing operations are carried out, the gangway will pick up on the operator’s preference in terms of landing spots and approaches. Mr Højmark noted that as the technology develops, it may be possible for operators to share such learnings between gangway units, provided they have Autolanding implemented. This would mean that even if a vessel was landing for the first time at a platform previously accessed from another vessel, the gangway on the new vessel would use the learnings from its predecessor to carry out landing operations optimally.
Faster than human
The automatic slip-off detection system provides an innovative safety feature: if the gangway unexpectedly slips off its landing point this is instantaneously detected, and the system withdraws to a safe position. An electronic system is able to detect such events and react much faster than a human operator would be able to, explains Mr Højmark, as sensors provide updates 200 times a second. In Uptime’s demonstration of the capability, the gangway had moved less than 7 cm before the automatic slip-off detection kicked in. A human operator would take longer to respond even in good conditions, let alone when dealing with inclement weather, Mr Højmark notes.
The gangway’s crane functionality is also a first, Mr Højmark says. He notes such integrated solutions can match the capacity and reach of traditional equipment used in offshore maintenance and could become the norm.
The crane mode is capable of lifting up to four tonnes static or two tonnes in dynamic offshore conditions, making it capable of undertaking the majority of lifts involved in the typical maintenance assignments the gangway is designed to assist with.
While it cannot operate in both transfer and crane mode simultaneously, the gangway can switch between the two easily, without any hardware changes or transition required, and Mr Højmark notes this could also facilitate combining the separate roles of gangway operator and crane operator into one, reducing crewing requirements.
The system is intended to be operated in remote-control mode, with the operator positioned on the bridge. This enables improved communications between the operator and other crew members involved in vessel operations, resulting in improved operability and safety. However, radio control is also possible, so the operator can be positioned on deck.
A real-time integrated monitoring system tracks environmental conditions and gangway use including wind speed, acceleration and physical limits. This not only provides alarms and notifications to the operator but is also able to log data locally with storage of up to 30 days. This also enables simulation of the gangway system, enabling operators to see how the active motion-compensated mode would behave in current conditions ahead of commencing operations.
As well as safety benefits, the digital enablers integrated into the gangway improve workability, with automated systems with a hard-coded understanding of operational limitations able to more clearly understand when a landing will or will not be possible, and to anticipate and react to events faster than a human operator who may be fatigued and under stress, notes Mr Højmark.