Remotely operating onboard machinery offers an array of advantages for shipowners and operators
DNV GL is working with Høglund, Fjord1 and the Norwegian Maritime Authority in a research project to explore moving the engine control room from the ship to a shore-based centre, while ensuring a safety level that is the same or better than today’s conventional operation.
Control doesn’t have to mean close
As ships become more complex, shipowners increasingly rely on suppliers to operate and maintain their vessels. Some also struggle to recruit from the new generation of machinery engineers. “Electronics and data systems on board require steadily higher levels of competency, but young engineering talent tends to prefer shore-based jobs,” says DNV GL principal researcher on autonomous ships, Steinar Låg.
In response to this rising challenge, DNV GL joined forces with automation systems vendor Høglund, Norwegian ferry operator Fjord1, and the Norwegian Maritime Authority to establish the ROMAS project. ROMAS stands for remote operation of machinery and automation systems and focuses on moving the engine control room (ECR) from the ship to a shore-based engine control centre (ECC). There, a team of one or more chief engineers can remotely operate the propulsion and auxiliary machinery systems on a whole fleet of vessels. “Our focus is on identifying the required technical solutions and establishing a regulatory framework with rules and verification methods for remote shore-based operation of ship machinery and automation systems,” explains Mr Låg, who manages the ROMAS project.
“Transferring responsibilities, monitoring and control facilities to shore reduces the need for machinery engineers on board and should make marine engineering jobs more attractive,” he adds.
New knowledge enables new ways of working
New approaches to design and operations, combined with increased redundancy and more advanced maintenance, mean the concept could conceivably be operated without machinery engineers on board. “Once this step is taken, the way to more autonomous ships becomes clearer and shorter,” says Mr Låg.
The project commenced in 2017 and will continue to the end of 2019, supported by funding from the Norwegian Research Council. In the pilot test campaign, Høglund Marine Automation is responsible for equipment on board and at the engine control centre on shore. Machinery monitoring and control will be centred around Høglund’s existing integrated automation system (IAS), but the implemented solutions will also include alarm improvements, closed-circuit television surveillance and a reliable and redundant communication solution based on 4G modems.
Testing the way to safe operations
In 2017 and 2018 the project identified business and user requirements, mapped relevant rules, regulations and risk considerations, and performed data analysis.
For the test campaign, the ECC was established at Fjord1’s office in Molde. The aim of the testing is to gather data and experience that can be used to validate assumptions and give input to rule development to ensure safe commercial deployment of the concept in the future.
The campaign was carried out with one of Fjord1’s ferries, Fannefjord. Built to DNV GL class in 2010, the vessel is a modern and highly redundant LNG/battery/diesel-powered roro ferry operating on the 35-minute crossing between Molde and Vestnes. While the ROMAS concept may be applied to longer-range voyages in the future, shorter crossings employing modern vessels offer a more suitable operational profile for testing and verifying the concept.
Remote means new crew solutions
The ECC will be manned round the clock with one operator in the role of chief engineer and arrangements for additional support. The ECC is designed to support three ferries with similar design and operational profiles, but only one ferry will be operated in the pilot phase.
Building for a remote future
A remote IAS will serve as the hub for monitoring and controlling the machinery and engineering systems. IAS functional enhancements will also be implemented, such as communication system integration and functionality for synchronising data and transfer commands between ship and shore.
“The long-term plan is to use project learning for future operations and developing new products and services,” says Mr Låg. These include a “remote ready” IAS system from Høglund, applicable rules and approval in principle programmes from DNV GL, and regulations from the Norwegian Maritime Authority. “The aim is to enable Fjord1 and other shipowners to consider commercial deployment for new generations of ships,” he concludes.