Future engines will require good integration and skilled crew as well as advanced electronics
The arrival of the CIMAC Congress programme is eagerly awaited at Marine Propulsion headquarters. This time around, the engine grease that usually dominates the triennial combustion fair will be tinted with solder and server farms. Digitalisation, electrification and automation occupy three of 11 themes into which papers will be crammed at the event in Vancouver in June.
Automation has long been a necessary part of the marine engine. But the continued digitalisation of shipping is placing new burdens on old control systems. MAN’s new digital platform, CEON, is backed by a data-crunching capability beyond that of some social media networks. With all that analytical power, the demand for data from equipment on board will only grow.
Electrification and hybridisation will have a similar effect. As the drivetrain and on-board power generation system hosts more components and energy sources, the need for control and sensor feedback will increase. The result will be that electronic controls will face a bottleneck in processing power and communication capability when faced with the ship systems of tomorrow.
WinGD is one company to have recognised this impending gridlock. At CIMAC Congress it will outline its solution, a complete break from control architecture originally designed more than 15 years ago. A modular design and a dedicated communications module are key components, the company told Marine Propulsion this week.
Other companies at the event will be presenting their own solutions to the challenge of preparing combustion engines for digitalisation and hybridisation. In shipping, there are two other factors that make the situation particularly problematic.
Firstly, unlike in power generation, engines on ships do not operate in near isolation. Even before the extra power sources that will be added through hybridisation, they are at the heart of a complex power and propulsion arrangement that includes fuel treatment, emissions abatement, ballast water treatment, HVAC and the drivetrain itself. Despite this, as Hoglund Marine Solutions CEO Børge Nogva noted in a recent comment, shipping traditionally does system integration badly. This must change as they systems around the engine become even more complex and disparate.
Secondly, the evolution of ship engines and machinery will mean that shipping needs to tackle crew skill shortages even more urgently. Of course, this applies to the modern electronic systems on which ship engines and machinery (not just navigation and communications) rely. The University of British Columbia and Vard are among those to recognise these concerns, putting forward a bold plan to bolster education. But the skill shortages are not confined to Canada.
Future demands on engines and machinery will require better, more capable control systems. To make the most of these, they will need to be both better integrated and more capably operated.