How AkzoNobel diagnostic manager Dr Adam Bell is using technology to accurately and rapidly assess hull coating conditions in regions where divers are not available
Over the years, AkzoNobel has gathered data on the performance of its coatings across thousands of vessels. To do so, the company uses AIS to remotely monitor its customer’s vessels and follow factors such as location and speed. The data forms the backbone of an artificial intelligence system that helps the company to assess the performance of its coatings. The longer a vessel is static, the more it becomes susceptible to biofouling. When a vessel is moving, even slowly, the leaching effect of solutions in the coatings are more effective in reducing the prevalence and growth of biofouling.
AkzoNobel attempts to pinpoint the accumulation of fouling using its AIS data and AI analysis, presenting the findings to its customers as a correlation showing a drop in fuel consumption and vessel performance that coincides with the growth of biofouling over time. Correlation, of course, does not prove causation, meaning a drop off in performance may have root causes that do not include biofouling or the need for new coatings.
So, to augment its AI analysis, AkzoNobel uses coating inspections as a means to quickly identify -- or eliminate -- coating as the culprit for a vessel’s diminished performance.
“It is a very challenging industry because we are competing with nature,” Dr Bell said. “A lot of damage can happen to the hull. If damage exists, the coating does not have a chance.”
Traditionally, AkzoNobel worked with diving companies that send human divers to perform ship hull inspections. However, relying on human divers for inspections has posed other kinds of challenges, including diver safety and time constraints from permitting by port authorities to sea conditions making inspection dives impossible.
Due to these constraints, Dr Bell and his team began researching ways to optimise visual inspections of vessels’ hulls using unmanned technologies. The team’s research led them to micro ROVs which can be deployed by one operator to collect video footage of the state of a vessel’s hull. The footage provides the requisite data for the visual inspection and the whole process can be completed in under one hour from the safety of dry land.
Based on Dr Bell’s success, AkzoNobel acquired several SeaDrone Inspector 3 ROVs to perform ship hull inspections. Given the benefits of the new method, AkzoNobel asked Dr Bell and his team to get the ROVs and their operators up and running immediately.
Dr Bell’s team taught AkzoNobel technical service representatives (TSRs) to perform coating inspections using the SeaDrone Inspector 3 ROVs, and these TSRs have since become the company’s front-line customer service representatives. They spend time at the ports working with AkzoNobel customers and performing the inspections.
In terms of operational guidance, Dr Bell said keeping the very costly ROVs in sight is a cardinal rule.
“I talk about operating in straight lines. Instead of sending the ROV down the vessel, underneath and up the other side, I tell them to always keep the ROV within view,” Dr Bell said. “Don’t lose sight of the ROV, or else you are in trouble.”
This particular operational limitation means it is important for the company and its TSRs to plan the inspection points the ROVs need to capture in a range of different circumstances and conditions. As an example, Dr Bell explained that, in bright sunlight it is difficult for operators to see the screen and to properly guide the drone. To combat the sun, Dr Bell sometimes uses a VR headset and a PS3 gaming controller, he said.
“I have been on the dockside driving the drone completely unaware that people are standing next to me taking selfies,” he said.
In terms of timings, he said it is crucial for operators to quickly gather images to represent the hull’s condition.
“If inspect every square metre, that will take an unreasonable amount of time,” Dr Bell said. “It’s about understanding what is representative.”
According to Dr Bell, the SeaDrone Inspector 3 is particularly suited for close ship work. It is over-powered for its size and able to combat currents that would fatigue a human diver. The propulsion units are inboard the drone, protecting them from damage through contact with the hull, and the drone has powerful LED lights that shine above and below, as well as in front of the machine.