Virtual reality and remote operations are set to enhance the safety and efficiency of offshore lifting
“Offshore cranes are becoming much more complicated to operate, especially those that can be used for subsea lifts,” explains IMCA technical director Mark Ford. He continues: “Gone are the days when the crane driver went up to his cab and drove it with three controls – slew, hoist and boom up/boom down.”
“Nowadays, consoles are not dissimilar to the cockpit of a plane,” says Mr Ford, noting that operators face additional challenges with cabin equipment and controls varying between manufacturers.
“Inspection, repair and maintenance (IRM) has always been an issue with offshore cranes,” says Mr Ford. Ensuring personnel undertaking IRM work are competent and knowledgeable about the equipment they are working on is essential, he adds.
Digitalisation can play a key role in such training, with several technologies enabling operators to boost their training capabilities and ensure operators are familiar with equipment and vessels before they even set food on board.
“A Stage 3 Crane Operator could move from one vessel with a complicated crane from one manufacturer to a different vessel with a crane from a different manufacturer, featuring a different cab layout,” says Mr Ford. “Naturally he could feel out of his comfort zone, so digitalisation can enable him to feel at home and confident in the new crane cab.”
Mr Ford highlighted Netherlands-based offshore engineering firm Heerema’s work in this area, with regard to lift vessel Sleipnir. He says the company uses both a digital twin of the vessel itself as well as its crane for training operators on a simulator.
“They have a feed-in from the vessel of the whole DP system, and using a simulator, staff can mirror the lift in real time without leaving their office,” says Mr Ford.
“They are to all intents and purposes on the vessel, they know the DP system is working and the crane operator in the simulator can do a practice lift, and thus be aware of potential challenges before actually undertaking the lift for real.”
The simulator used by Heerema provides the operator with all the equipment used to drive the crane, slewing it to the left or right, and everything needed for a specific lift. Vessel motion and weather can also be simulated and DP equipment is also covered.
Virtual reality can also be incorporated into training, adds Mr Ford. A new crane driver moving onto a vessel can put on VR goggles to see what equipment is available in the cab, how it is laid out and how the equipment operates, practicing driving the crane using the goggles to prepare for what will happen when the real lift is undertaken.
VR also has important implications for maintenance operations, notes Mr Ford. An operator wearing VR goggles could be directed in how to carry out maintenance with step-by-step instructions given remotely, removing the need for specialists to work on the crane directly. “Thanks to the VR goggles you know what must be done before you start doing the job,” he said, noting that this is already happening in shore-based industries such as automotive and aerospace.
“Undoubtedly, this will be key to crane maintenance offshore and the reliability of the equipment should improve,” he says. “Potentially, this will de-skill much of the maintenance aspects, but it will improve the results.”
Mr Ford also sees potential for operators to work remotely in future. He notes that simulators can accurately reflect a vessel’s real-time conditions, and that with use of cameras it could be possible to drive a crane from shore. “Increasingly, specialist tasks are being done onshore – drillers on a sophisticated drill ship are not drilling on the wellhead in cabins positioned over the wellhead, they are in an air-conditioned control room and everything is computerised,” notes Mr Ford, posing the question: “If they are drilling on a computer – why be on a vessel?”
“The way the internet is progressing, and data speeds are increasing, plus cloud technology and sophisticated data capture, down-manning of platforms is likely to happen across the industry,” he adds.
Smart technology also has a role to play in assisting human operators; Mr Ford cites the example of Liebherr’s development of so-called ‘intelligent cranes’. Currently, the focus of this technology is for offloading vessels, with the cranes assisting operators by positioning themselves to perform lifting with optimal efficiency.
“They are looking at how to apply that to offshore cranes, which is quite a challenge when you are dealing with subsea lifts – blind lifts,” says Mr Ford. Currently, crane operators are reliant on communications from the dive supervisor, he explains, with dive supervisors in turn reliant on communication with divers, resulting in time delays to operations.
Mr Ford envisages ROVs replacing divers to give crane operators a better, direct view of what is happening on the seabed. “The crane operator would have an ROV feed, and thus be able to see exactly when the target has been hooked on, the ROV backs away and he’s got the pitch of the ROV so can tell when to commence the lift,” he says, adding: “Equally he can get a live feed when he is landing something on the seabed.”
New heavy-lifting capacity for next-gen wind projects
Luxembourg engineering firm Jan De Nul Group has commissioned its third offshore jack-up installation vessel, aimed at supporting the growing offshore renewables market
Under construction at COSCO Shipping Heavy Industry in China, Jan De Nul’s latest offshore jack-up installation vessel is set for delivery in 2022.
Offshore wind turbines are growing in size with successive generations – turbines can now reach as high as 270 m, with blades up to 120 m. Installation vessel operators therefore face a challenge in ensuring their vessels have lifting capacity to handle such large, heavy loads.
Jan De Nul has awarded Netherlands-based lifting specialist Huisman a contract for design, engineering, construction and delivery of the main crane on Voltaire. Huisman will construct the crane at its Xiamen, China, production facility, and it will be installed at the COSCO yard.
Voltaire’s crane will be the biggest leg-encircling crane installed on a wind turbine installation vessel, and, together with its flyjib, will have the highest lifting height in the world. Its capacity will be over 3,000 tonnes. Its operating depth will be approximately 80 m, it will have a payload of about 14,000 tonnes, and accommodation for 100 people. Voltaire will have four legs to allow it to lift itself above sea level to ensure stable working conditions, and will be equipped with a dynamic positioning system of DP2 notation.
It is the third jack-up vessel to join Jan De Nul’s fleet, but has almost double the deck space of sister vessels Vole au Vent and Taillevent
The vessel will also be deployable for the oil and gas industry, and for offshore structural decommissioning projects.
Jan De Nul has extensive experience in Europe and has executed projects in Belgium, the UK, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. It has also been contracted for construction of the Northwester 2 windfarm offshore Belgium in 2019. Further afield, the company signed contracts in mid-2018 for two major windfarm projects offshore Taiwan: The Formosa 1 Phase 2 OWF project for Formosa Wind Power Co, with construction scheduled for 2019; and the Changhua OWF project commissioned by the Taiwan Power Company, with construction scheduled for 2020.
Rope extension system extends lifting capacity
An innovative fibre-rope extension system (FRES) can be used to boost lifting capacity of existing steel-rope cranes for deepwater applications.
Developed by National Oilwell Varco (NOV), the Fathom FRES uses fibre material, which is naturally buoyant in water, to allow subsea lifting of loads up to 400 tonnes.
Traditionally, lifting even small loads from deep waters requires a large crane, which also requires a larger OSV. Fibre-rope systems enable use of smaller cranes and thus smaller vessels, making for more cost-efficiency while improving the operational capabilities of the vessel and the crane.
NOV’s system is designed to expand the working range of existing crane capacities, extending pre-existing steel wire rope through a series of connection balls and rope segments. The system comprises a rope storage reel with a spooling device, an overturning sheave with or without load hang-off, a travelling connector fixed to the main winch steel rope, and sections of fibre rope connected with standard spliced eyes in a connecting ball.
The submerged hook load is equal to the crane’s existing SWL, reduced by the weight of the submerged fibre rope, including hardware terminations, loose gears, steel wire rope payed out and travelling connector.
Fathom is available as a crane-mounted solution or deck-mounted independent solution both with customizable rope lengths.
Ram-luffing crane punches above its weight
Dubai-based services company Navtech Marine Services have ordered a compact but capable ram-luffing crane for a newbuild jack-up barge.
The new vessel will be used to service existing oil platforms belonging to Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) in the Middle East Gulf, lifting heavy parts to platform height and executing maintenance tasks. It therefore needs lifting equipment that combines a compact footprint with the ability to lift heavy loads.
The solution opted for is an RL 2650 ram-luffing crane from Liebherr. Characterised by a box boom and compact structure, the RL 2650 has a diameter of less than three metres. In order to guarantee the required lifting capacity of 75 tonnes while keeping the crane’s weight low, the crane will be equipped with a reinforced slewing bearing and slewing column.
The electro-hydraulic offshore crane is due to be delivered in 2020.