Higher broadband speeds will enable emerging IT-based technologies to revolutionise shipboard maintenance and extend equipment life
Maintenance of shipboard engines and machinery is evolving with every passing project with communications and IT technology playing a far greater role. This is reducing expenditure for shipowners and vessel operators by extending the lifetime of machinery and delivering greater levels of assistance for seafarers at the sharp-end of operations. IT technology is better enabled by having fast broadband between the ship and shore-based operations centres.
The ability of onboard engineers to gather advice from shore for complicated maintenance jobs makes operations more cost-effective. Communications has become an increasingly important aspect to onboard maintenance as engineers send and receive systems information, images and video to and from shore.
Increasing numbers of sensors and higher amounts of equipment data enables vessel operators and manufacturers to monitor machinery condition, modify maintenance programmes, identify issues and predict potential failures.
This can be incorporated in smarter maintenance strategies, drydock planning and designing more effective onboard systems, said Wärtsilä director of sales and support for power systems services, Paul Kohle. He thinks onboard engineers need to be more multifunctional and rely on emerging and established technologies for assistance in their work.
Mr Kohle also thinks greater use of performance and condition monitoring will lead to more vessel operators adopting predictive maintenance strategies to increase efficiency and lower costs.
In an interview in November 2018, Mr Kohle listed five technologies having a positive impact on vessel maintenance. For all of these, the vessel would need to have high levels of communications across satellite or on coastal 3G or 4G to enable information to flow both ways to shore support.
Satellite communications, preferably VSAT, is therefore vital for these emerging technologies to flourish and for vessel operators, onboard engineers and machinery manufacturers to gain the benefits.
Virtual engineering/augmented reality
Remote support services can be enhanced by using augmented reality (AR) and virtual engineering technology. Ship operators can receive real-time advice and technical support for their assets.
This technology is further advanced on ships as onboard engineers can receive technical advice on mobile devices and specially-designed goggles. “With augmented reality technology an engineer can have a video link to technical experts for additional advice and support,” said Mr Kohle.
They can interact in real-time with experts in Wärtsilä’s remote service centres around the world. These experts have access to Wärtsilä’s relevant data and can guide the person on site in real-time to solve issue.
An engineer can now be skilled to a reasonable level across many disciplines instead of being an expert in one. A technical expert in the remote service centre can assist an onboard engineer through complex troubleshooting and repair operations.
Wärtsilä’s virtual engineering concept integrates software and mobile communications technology with augmented reality, audio and visuals.
Artificial intelligence/machine learning
Condition and performance monitoring of machinery is becoming common on vessels, with sensors generating streams of operational data for analysis. This is enabling owners and operators to conduct maintenance when it is required compared to a periodic maintenance strategy.
Mr Kohle explained that in the future, machine learning technology will take this even further with greater benefits for vessel owners and manufacturers. “There will be a day very soon, when data is analysed by experts while artificial intelligence is being used for predictive maintenance,” he said. Data analysis helps predict maintenance needs in advance, enabling better planning and support services.
“Data is analysed by experts while artificial intelligence is being used for predictive maintenance”
“Customers want to know the optimal time for maintenance and want to optimise their operations for the profile of the vessel,” Mr Kohle explained. “They can make choices with full knowledge and support for this lifecycle approach to maintenance and reduce their operating expenditure.”
Digital 3D twin
Vessel maintenance can also be improved using 3D models of ships, sometimes known as digital twins. A 3D model of a ship’s design could be maintained at the same time as the actual vessel is, enabling owners, repair yards and onboard engineers to visualise the condition of the ship through its lifetime.
These models can be further advanced with greater detail of engineroom systems and propulsion to provide an improved tool for future maintenance of the vessel. “With greater 3D visualisation, equipment models could be pulled apart by engineers for training and as a live tool,” said Mr Kohle.
“With greater 3D visualisation, equipment models could be pulled apart by engineers for training and as a live tool”
Software providers are developing 3D modelling and digital twins for ship engineering and ongoing lifecycle management. For example, Aveva Engage includes 3D design models, machinery and plant engineering plans, for insight into a ship’s systems and condition analysis of all elements on a vessel.
Engineer training could also be improved through using virtual reality (VR). It could also aid servicing by enabling engineers to trial the job in a virtual world prior to actually performing the work. VR provides immersive learning scenarios for engineers to gain greater understanding of the complexities of onboard machinery maintenance.
KVH Videotel was one of the first to test using VR for training with a program that helped teach and test engineers how to change a filter on a pump. In October, KVH Videotel and OMS-VR agreed to produce and distribute VR maritime training.
Together they will develop a series of VR training segments over the next two years, to build a portfolio of more than 40 training courses. The topics of the existing and future VR modules include critical safety material, cargo and engineering tasks, and industry best-practice exercises. These will conform with IMO’s Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping.
Smart maintenance portals
The analysed data streams from machinery sensors, predictive maintenance information and online advice, requires online portals for data storage and multi-stakeholder access.
Cloud-based services provide the storage and online access. However, more online and secure access is required for e-procurement and spare parts tracking and 24/7 online technical advice.
For this, Wärtsilä developed an online portal for its smart maintenance concept. “There is more use of our online portal by customers for parts ordering, monitoring the status of orders, access to technical bulletins and advice from our technical service departments,” said Mr Kohle. “We will be updating this portal in the future with additional features.”
Portals of today include customer-related information. In the future, these could include 3D models of machinery and AR information for onboard engineers. Smart maintenance portals could include VR training courses for shipping company trainees or ship engineers looking to advance their knowledge. There could also be condition and performance information of individual machinery or ships systems and links to AI technology for more advanced predictive maintenance strategies.
Progress on the top five technologies
- Virtual engineering/augmented reality – starting to be used on board and ashore.
- Artificial intelligence/machine learning – still in development.
- Digital 3D twin – starting to be used by class and forward-thinking ship operators.
- Virtual reality – being tested by class and first training courses under development.
- Smart data portals – more advances coming on existing portals.