The rise of remote diagnostics and increased automation could trigger a sea-change in onboard safety
Among the many benefits to be derived from the remote monitoring of vessels is the very real prospect of enhanced onboard safety.
The reasons for this are fairly clear. First of all, the fact that the performance and condition of equipment can be assessed precisely at all times makes it easier to predict and prevent catastrophic failure. Secondly, such remote systems do not suffer from fatigue and cannot be distracted, and the automation of certain mundane tasks will free crew to concentrate on operational and safety-critical issues. Finally, as it becomes more and more common for certain tasks to be automated, the possibility and likelihood of human error can be decreased or even eliminated altogether.
This is a theme that can be discerned in much of the discussion about remote monitoring technology by the leading original equipment manufacturers. For instance, Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce’s president of marine business, said about his company’s Ship Intelligence offerings: “With the demands of environmental legislation and rising operating costs, ships are going to become more complex. Add to that the fact that skilled crews are already in short supply, then we see a distinct gap opening up between the complexity of ships and the competency of the people who will crew them. That will cause real problems for the industry, and we believe it is Ship Intelligence that will fill that gap.”
ABB, in its recent white paper Integrated Operations: ABB‘s digital business transformation for the maritime industry, outlined its view that remote monitoring and operation represented the future of onboard safety, saying: “Co-ordination problems, lack of efficiency, and technical risks are costing the maritime industry and its suppliers billions every year and they are a risk for the safety of passengers, crew, cargo, marine wildlife, fisheries. In addition, the maritime industry is being increasingly pressured to reduce its carbon footprint and contribution to global warming … We believe that only a vertical integration of the entire product and activity chain, from the machine, sensors, historian on board, the cloud platform, applications, and dispatch of service engineers, design, and R&D is going to provide shipowners and their fleet with a next-level standard in safety, productivity, and low carbon footprint. Or as one of our major customers put it, ‘our ambition is to operate by aviation industry safety and productivity standards by 2020.’”
The China Navigation Co (CNCo) has realised the importance of remotely monitoring bridge, communications and network equipment on its fleet of multipurpose dry cargo ships. It has contracted remote monitoring and maintenance of navigation and communications systems on a fleet of 35 vessels to Radio Holland. The Chinese shipping company operates a global network of multipurpose liner services for the transportation of containerised, breakbulk, heavylift and project cargoes in addition to providing dry bulk and bulk logistics services.
The contract with Radio Holland, which is part of the RH Marine Group, follows a successful remote monitoring pilot project involving the two companies. CNCo fleet director Martin Cresswell expects that this contract will reduce vessel down-time and improve safety.
“The maintenance agreement with Radio Holland has been designed to dovetail with the end of the warranty period for our newbuildings and is a continuation of the excellent co-operation that we have built up over the last few years,” he said. “The agreement incorporates remote monitoring, which we believe will significantly reduce out-of-service periods, increasing operational safety.”
Servowatch Systems has developed the ServoFusion and ServoCore automation, monitoring and control systems with different complexities for ferries and cruise ships. ServoCore is an alarm monitoring and control system, while the ServoFusion integrated platform management system can be deployed on larger passenger and vehicle ferries and cruise ships.
The subsidiary of Larsen & Toubro Group has supplied ServoCore for a variety of ferries operating in European waters and built in Australia. These include ships operated by Mols-Linien and Wightlink Ferries. According to Servowatch director of marine sales Martyn Dickinson, ServoCore was designed as a standard package that has been pre-engineered to reduce costs and simplify installation.
“The alarm monitoring and control system comes in standard formats that are building blocks for systems on ships,” he said. “It is our off-the-shelf product for the commercial shipping and ferry markets. It supports ethernet network distribution with redundancy, and has data collection and processing units, with display options and alarm extensions.”
ServoCore comes as three pre-configured data acquisition control units with either 64, 96 or 120 channels of digital and analogue sensor inputs and outputs. It can include four monitor sizes (7in up to 19in) and three PC options – a rugged fanless Mariner PC, a small form factor PC and an integrated touchscreen. It also has remote switching, analogue and digital controls, a local alarm panel and different interfaces for various protocols, including Modbus and the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) protocol NMEA 0183. Servowatch’s Winmon software is embedded in the heart of ServoCore, as a robust operating system that enables operators to define the capability and complexity of the system.
Servowatch has developed ServoFusion as an integrated platform for managing different vessel systems, power and propulsion, auxiliary machinery, seawater cooling, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and security systems. The latest ServoFusion system has Winmon9 software that enables different elements to be plugged into the ship’s automation, including a condition based maintenance (CBM) module. “Winmon9 is a continuation of our software development,” said Mr Dickinson. “We continue to upgrade it with more features so it becomes an end-to-end user tool. The common software platform is for configuration, data management, data transport and presentation with graphical user interfaces.”
He continued: “ServoFusion collects, distributes and displays live data from machinery, indicating where equipment goes into error, or over a threshold, so operators can react to faults. It has complex algorithms for automated operations, embedded intelligence and logic integrated into the system. Winmon9 allows us to plug in various packages and we can programme in other elements, such as power management and propulsion control. It can plug into a CBM package, sharing data for comprehensive reports.”
Servowatch developed functionality within the CBM module to interface with the integrated platform management system to enable high levels of fault and failure analysis, and to enable operators to plan and conduct corrective actions. “ServoFusion is for more bespoke installations where custom features and engineering are required,” said Mr Dickinson. “Typically this format is found on complex commercial vessels, cruise ships and superyachts for shipmanagement systems, integrated platform management systems, and multifunction operating platforms.
“The difference is the number of points monitored and functionality, quantity of workstations, consoles and the network format. We can have remote terminal units, dual redundant networks, machinery controls, cargo operations, machinery room graphical user interfaces, and bridge displays. We do not utilise programmable logic controllers, as other system integrators may do, as we have embedded processing.” The Winmon software operates in a Microsoft Windows environment. Data is collected by the input-output units into the header unit and is then fed to Winmon, where it is processed.
“The architecture is more flexible for serial interfacing,” said Mr Dickinson. “We use peer-to-peer networking that can share data between all system nodes. The structure has distributed intelligence, so units can operate independently of each other, and data is shared around the entire system.” Operators can also use ServoFusion for remote monitoring and access, and support from shore, via the ship’s satellite communications system, or other network related media.
For passenger ships, particularly cruise ships, Servowatch can provide passenger and crew onboard tracking, to enhance awareness of where people are on the vessels. “Cruise lines are interested in behaviour management and people profiling, to determine demand for services or introduce energy saving efficiencies,” said Mr Dickinson. The Servowatch solution also has applications for alerting the bridge if there is a passenger or crew overboard situation, or for other safety related incidents.