Online data and constant monitoring may enable the financial and operational predictability operators crave from their turbochargers
In an ideal world, the overhaul maintenance cycle would be co-ordinated with the drydocking cycle, but unexpected costs and the difficulty in co-ordinating regular maintenance are the main factors that inhibit the smooth running of the turbocharger maintenance programme. But can these factors be overcome?
ABB Turbocharging global product manager Irina Lang holds an MSc in Mechanical Engineering and MAS in Management Technology and Economics from ETH Zurich and is responsible for ABB’s digital turbocharger service offerings.
Ms Lang said ABB’s aim is to overcome these challenges and provide enhanced fixed-cost care for two-stroke engine turbochargers. “What would it mean to shipowners and operators if fixed pricing was available?” asked Ms Lang. “It means no budget overruns, flat costs, and reliable planning ahead of the drydocking.”
Fixed prices can help flatten costs across an operator’s fleet and lessen a shipmanager’s administrative burden while constant monitoring and maintenance can help increase clarity about the turbocharger’s condition, she said.
Ms Lang notes that turbocharger manufacturers should shoulder some risks related to additional part replacements, overtime costs and other elements. Manufacturers must ensure they have a widespread presence to fix labour rates and allow customers to select the shipyard and country of their choice.
Ms Lang said avoiding additional costs through unexpected parts replacement affects all companies. "Smaller companies may find it hard to spare the cash for replacements,” she said, adding that bigger companies with bigger fleets seeking to plan the budget for the complete fleet will benefit from the flat-rate costs. To the question: is enhanced turbocharger care at a fixed cost from drydock-to-drydock a fact or fiction? Ms Lang believes it is now a reality. “It allows the service to be planned in an efficient manner and increases the clarity on equipment health,” she said.
In a Riviera survey undertaken live during a webinar* on turbochargers, 52% of respondents reported they outsource their turbocharger maintenance and 71% complete overhauls while in port or in service.
Former seafarer and superintendent, and now one of Wilhelmsen Ship Management vessel managers Andrew Madge has a lot of experience running turbocharger maintenance programmes. He said companies running on tighter budgets or running global operations will require these measures far more than a large company with ample resources, quality crews, regional operations and the time and money to perform maintenance.
Mr Madge also noted that turbocharger performance has grown more reliable over time. "There was a history of compressor wheel failures in the 1990s and early 2000s. Fortunately, we do not see them now, or we see them very rarely under normal circumstances,” he said.
“The biggest concern I have is being able to track the age and running hours of components. If you get your turbocharger servicing done at different places around the world with different companies, you are not necessarily getting the full picture of how parts have been interchanged between vessels or between turbochargers.”
On the question of whether turbocharger maintenance is dependent on the type of fuel and gas used, Ms Lang said the general principle is judging turbocharger parts wear and tear based on their condition during an inspection.
With more alternative fuels entering the market, Mr Madge said he expects “the performance of the turbocharger, the margin for error and the tolerance to deteriorating performance will be narrower”.
While failure may not be as common, the modern practice of data logging and transferring huge amounts of data from the turbochargers from ship to shore were new challenges posed by the process in terms of connectivity, consistency, cyber security and costs.
Monitoring the health of a turbocharger remotely gives clarity if surging events occur and assurance that the necessary cleaning and maintenance has been carried out. Another benefit is the data analysis may substitute intermediate inspection. The downside is the drain on resources from high volumes of data. Ms Lang said it would be beneficial if the offerings turbocharger manufacturers come up with do not require a constant stream of operational data.
"Looking at vessels already in operation, some of the automation systems are not set up to transmit data every second to the cloud," she said.
To overcome the lack of connectivity, managers and owners may have to get more familiar with existing systems, Ms Lang said.
"When you are responsible for a big fleet, you have a large variance in automation systems. But it is possible to extract the data locally and send it via email to your head office or to your suppliers."
In a survey, 29% said their companies have adopted big data and a further 52% said their companies are actively investigating doing so.
Mr Madge said introducing big data on a large scale can help OEMs tailor services to their customer’s needs and capturing variations in turbochargers is “invaluable”.
“This can lead to some machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify faults and areas for improvement on a ship ownership manager level. We can understand how different captains are driving the ships, different chief engineers are operating their enginerooms. It can also show areas where there is room for improvement in fuel consumption, and operational reliability. If you operate a large fleet of 20 ships, and you have a failure on one ship, you can use this data to see what was different,” he said.
In a survey, 61% said they were open to sharing data, but a significant portion – 39% – felt differently. Cyber security concerns persist with reports of cyber attacks becoming more frequent. In response, ABB said it has launched a new partnership with Kongsberg on a method to extract data automatically from the automation systems into the cloud where suppliers can gain access.
In ABB’s model, data ownership stays with the customer directly and the data will not be shared with any third parties. Ms Lang said, "If we have an agreement with the customer, ABB can use the data for the agreed purpose but the ownership still stays with the customer."
Ultimately, Ms Lang said the key concerns are finding a fixed cost for turbocharger care and extracting operational data. Mr Madge said going forward, new ships coming into the market will integrate issues related to life service cost management and data collection.
"It has its place in the market; I think that place will grow. But currently, there is the challenge for shipmanagers to sell this to the owners as a concept,” he said.
Only time will show how successful the concept of fixed price and enhanced turbocharger care will be in the market. However, digitalisation will bring with it new value propositions to service concepts creating greater value for customers.
* Enhanced turbocharger care for drydock-to-drydock webinar was held 30 Sept 2020