Covid-19 has laid the groundwork for increased automation to drive a recovery across the troubled maritime sector
Remote operations, increased automation, vessel monitoring and remote surveys – those were among the key takeaways expressed by four panellists at a recent Riviera Maritime Media webinar, How Covid-19 will transform your vessel operations, produced in association with Rolls-Royce Power Systems, part of an ongoing multi-week series of executive-level webinars. Among the panellists were Majestic Fast Ferry (MFF) managing director Max Tan, Damen Shipyards Singapore managing director Michel Goedegburre, Rolls-Royce Power Systems director application engineering and automation marine and defence systems Kevin Daffey and Bureau Veritas director strategic sales marine and offshore Francis Tang.
“Digitalisation will increase the effectiveness and efficiency in the industry beyond what we can now imagine”
One of the ‘silver linings’ resulting from the pandemic, said Mr Goedegburre, is that companies have the opportunity to redesign their business models. “With more staff working remotely, staff and companies are more open to change,” he said.
These changes will be driven by ‘rolling’ travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines imposed by governments to control any future outbreaks.
“With travel restrictions in place in Singapore, there has been an impact on the ability of mechanics and technicians to go onboard the vessels,” observed Mr Goedegburre.
To address these issues, Mr Goedegburre had several recommendations to get vessel operators ‘sailing sooner’.
First, he recommended increasing the crew’s capabilities to operate vessels at lower manning levels, allowing them to meet social distancing guidelines.
Second, add remote monitoring that allows your engineer or the OEM’s engineer to maintain the vessel remotely. “An added benefit is that you can look into predictive maintenance,” said Mr Goedegburre.
He recommended additional crew training. “Make sure your crew is learning and acquiring new skills,” he said. “Your engineers could be acquiring new skills, but I think it’s more important that they write up their standards for operating procedures and teach them to the crew,” he said. This will let the vessel’s engineers work remotely and allow the crew to handle higher-skilled engineering tasks.
Mr Goedegburre also advised upgrading the vessel where possible. “Introduce automation or sensors for remote monitoring to allow the engineers of the OEMs to support you. The added benefits are that your operational costs will be reduced permanently, and hopefully, your ROI will improve with these investments.”
Advances in condition-based monitoring
Recent advances in condition-based monitoring now allow OEMs to “prognose problems before they affect engine operations,” said Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ Mr Daffey. “Now we provide condition-based asset management based upon how an engine is actually operated.”
In order to accomplish this, Rolls-Royce Power Systems uses machine learning techniques, specifically a neural network. “We train the neural network on about three months of good data from a testbed, using all the sensors available on that particular engine,” explained Mr Daffey. “The idea is that we detect anomalies. Those anomalies are then alerted and if the model knows the cause based upon previous classification, it generates an alert or an alarm which triggers action from a remote operating centre, providing advice back to the engine operator.”
“Automation or sensors for remote monitoring allow OEM engineers to support you”
Mr Daffey said if the anomaly was previously unknown, it is flagged and diagnosed by experts. The underlying cause of the anomaly is added to the classification library and the knowledge captured for all similar engines.
“This means that our body of knowledge is continuously updated and captured,” he said. “Not only for that particular customer, but for all customers of that particular engine class.”
Rolls-Royce Power Systems is using its engine health monitor to predict engine failure, reduce downtime, service costs and increase vessel utilisation. The predictive service offers online technical support and remote support. Mr Daffey said this machine learning technique has been rolled out across a large fleet of the company’s Bergen engine range and has been operating for about three years. “It has been very successful, and it is building up a good library of anomalies for the medium-speed engine range, both on ships and also in power generation operations,” he said. “We just started to do this on our high-speed engines, training it on engine test data. Over time, we will begin to roll it out when we’re satisfied to fleet operators and build up a library for that.” Continued Mr Daffey: “The great thing about anomaly detection is that the first question you can ask when you see a new anomaly is ‘Am I seeing something that’s real? Is it a sensor issue or is it a real feature? If we classify something as a particular sensor degradation or sensor failure, we can identify it and detect it.”
Additionally, Rolls-Royce Power Systems is “scaling up” its engine health monitoring system to encompass the entire power and propulsion train. The health monitoring system, called Echo, incorporates vibration sensors on the drivetrain and integrated platform management system (IPMS) monitoring to provide insights on fuel consumption, emissions, routing, speed over water, timetable adherence and hull fouling.
Rolls-Royce Power Systems expects to bring together the automation system (IPMS), equipment health monitoring system and ship performance. “These are all enablers for remote operations that will allow us to make decisions from the shore and all the way through to autonomous operations where ships will be able to make their own decisions,” said Mr Daffey. Called the artificial chief engineer, Mr Daffey said the technology will “become a reality over the next 24 months to enable more remote and autonomous vessels of the future.”
Moving from reactive to proactive survey
Advances are also being made in digital classification, remote inspections and surveys, said Bureau Veritas (BV) director strategic sales marine and offshore Francis Tang.
“We can see that BV has been involved in digital classification right from the beginning at the vessel’s design and conceptualisation stage,” he said. “We actually introduced 3D classification techniques and 3D classification tools,” he added. Mr Tang said BV can appraise the design during the engineering phase and when the vessel is in under construction.
Mr Tang said the beauty of 3D classification is that a direct analysis can be performed on the 3D model. “There is no longer any need to convert a drawing from 2D to 3D. Using this methodology, BV has witnessed cost and time savings of up to 40%,” he said.
“A lot of people are talking about remote inspections and remote surveys, but what is really important is how do you actually see remotely and decide without being physically there?” Mr Tang pointed out.
“And at BV, we have not only been seeing and deciding remotely, we are actually doing it,” said Mr Tang. “BV has done a real pilot remote survey that is actually credited.”
Mr Tang also noted BV’s Optimum Survey Planning (OSP) tool moves the planning of surveys from a reactive to a proactive approach, providing a recommendation of the most convenient date and place to perform vessel surveys. This increases efficiency and convenience for the managers of ships requiring surveys – saving time, money and reducing any impact on ship operations.
Explained Mr Tang, OSP analyses the vessel’s route, looks at the ship’s status and we match that with our surveyors’ competencies and availability. Using OSP, BV is able to prompt vessel managers. “We can now approach the ship manager and let them know that their vessel is sailing a certain route and it might be a good time to plan for a survey during this period. This really takes us from being a reactive to a very proactive mode. And, of course, it brings us from being a very prescriptive service to a very predictive and risk-based survey scheme.”
There is also no difference in the survey certificate being issued by the classification society, whether the survey is performed remotely or with a surveyor present, explained Mr Tang. He said there are no specific requirements needed for a remote survey. “Everything is very straightforward; as long as the classification society has approved the vendor that is carrying out the remote inspections and surveys using their drones, we are good to go.”
This means that the remote survey equipment being used, drones, remotely operated vehicles, and crawlers and remote equipment providers, have to be certified by the classification societies. “Once that is done, it is a straightforward process. The owner has to arrange a survey and select their preferred choice of a vendor.”
To ensure data integrity of its remote monitoring systems, Damen controls the whole stream “from sensor up to the data warehousing,” said Mr Goedegburre.
Collecting reliable past vessel performance data is critical for operators, said Majestic Fast Ferry (MFF) managing director Max Tan. He said the database will help identify potential problems that MFF may encounter with its current fleet.
He also believes that operators need to invest in such technology to ensure their future. When it comes to investing new technology, Mr Tan said, “As ferry operators we have to weigh the pros and cons and the costs involved. Owners like us have to face the fact that this is the future for us.”
He added: “To grow, we will need to invest in technology advancements and future trends in order to improve both passenger experience and modernise our fleets.”
Mr Goedegburre said that it was very clear that digitalisation is of high interest and Covid-19 will result in the even faster adaption of technology. “Digitalisation will increase the effectiveness and efficiency in the industry beyond what we can imagine now. Think about how other industries have been disrupted by it. Stay on the ball.”
In summing up, Mr Daffey said four keywords came to mind: proactive, predictive, optimised and safer. “You can see industries coming together to embrace digital technology to support remote operations, remote diagnostics and remote surveys. This is only going to accelerate more over the next few months to support social distancing and safer and more efficient operations.”