Getting more out of data

Data and digitalisation are two simple words that have appeared quite recently in shipping’s consciousness and which seem to strike fear and confusion in some, whereas managed properly the reverse should be true.

Data is information – it can be a temperature or pressure reading, a flowrate, engine revolutions, speed or many of the myriad other things that engineers, navigators and occasionally shore superintendents discuss between themselves all the time.

Digitalisation is nothing more than using information that has been digitised (recorded electronically either by scanning, manual input via a keyboard or transferred between applications/equipment) and sharing that information with others by some electronic means perhaps by e-mailing or by storing in the cloud where others have access to it.

Some might say that shipping has been slow to adopt digitalisation although shipbrokers, owners and managers have been using in-house and off-the-shelf products for voyage estimating and reporting, maintenance and drydocking, crewing and other routine matters for decades.

More recently, recording engine parameters has become commonplace as more owners specify maximum data collection for the engine and data logging of oil/water separation, ballast treatment and emissions is done on a voluntary or mandatory basis depending upon operation and flag.

Voyage data recorders (VDRs) which are mandatory on most ships and collate important data are another type of digitalisation although the information is only required to be used for investigation purposes, some new systems allow for remote monitoring of ships. Performance software products are another recent arrival capturing data relating to weather conditions, trim of the vessel, cargo distribution, speed, and fuel consumption and promising fuel savings if interpreted and used correctly.

Probably more data is collected in the engine room than anywhere else onboard ship. In the past this would have involved a member of the engine room staff taking temperature and pressure readings from all the gauges on main and auxiliary engines, recording the rpm and load of the main engine, running parameters of turbochargers, running hours, fuel type and consumption, lubrication and more. In addition, running parameters of all other machines in the machinery spaces have to be recorded along with keeping records of consumables, incidents and work carried out on all machines.

A very experienced engineer or superintendent will have little problem in identifying anomalies and potential problems from the data in the logs but it is not unusual for study and analysis to be delayed while more important and pressing tasks need to be completed. Much of the manual record keeping for the main engine has been digitalised in modern ships by systems devised by the main engine manufacturers or a very small number of third party providers. Some of these systems can be accessed by the engine maker and used for engine monitoring and maintenance.

To benefit from digitalisation requires a conscious effort taken at an appropriate level within the organisation. As described, there is already a fair degree of digitalisation on board many ships but all too often there has been no attempt to combine the information and use it to optimise performance. Bringing together engine management and performance optimisation has probably the greatest potential in this regard.

This has been done by ABB with its ABB Ability™ Tekomar XPERT* family of products. Most performance optimisation products take into account fuel consumption and variables related to outside influences but do not link in any way to the engine management. Thus an opportunity to improve efficiency is missed. Digitalisation at the engine level already provides services such as predictive maintenance. However, it can also provide instant, in-depth analysis of the engine with real time advice which can be implemented to reduce fuel consumption. This can ensure the engine is operating at maximum performance and help extend the lifetime of the engine by monitoring asset health.

There are many factors that can increase fuel consumption and although the data is being collected and recorded regularly, small changes that make performance sub-optimal can go unnoticed until they reach pre-set levels that trigger warnings. For example, a drop in scavenge air pressure could be caused by something as simple as a clogged turbocharger filter and a reduction in turbocharger efficiency caused by worn nozzle rings. The deterioration will be gradual in the same way as fouling growth on the hull increases drag and causes a rise in fuel consumption.

Tekomar XPERT allows identification of the reasons for sub-par engine performance at a glance and allows comparisons of performance over any time period that the chief engineer or superintendent chooses. Because the analysis and reports are generated instantly by the software, there is no time lag waiting for logs to be sent from ship to shore and manually analysed by superintendents as might otherwise be the case. This can save days or weeks of the engine running at below par.

A solution of this kind can take the data from management systems developed by engine makers, but it has the added advantage of being independent and therefore applicable to all engine types and sizes. It can also handle set ups where multiple engines are in use. Tekomar XPERT for Fleet has been developed for use by shore staff and allows benchmarking across a fleet.

A solution that optimises the performance of the main engine and auxiliaries will primarily be used by the owner to reduce fuel consumption. It also has applications for those situations when a vessel is operating under a charter that makes others responsible for fuel supplies. Performance and consumption claims are one of the biggest headache for owners of time-chartered vessels and being able to show actions taken to optimise fuel use under adverse conditions can be a good defence. In cases where no claims are made, a system that works constantly to reduce fuel consumption can make the ship more attractive to charterers.

* ABB AbilityTM Tekomar XPERT

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