Condition-based maintenance has worked wonders in manufacturing: now SKF is accelerating its CBM offerings to the marine industry, says David Johansson, Head of Marine Business Development at SKF.
Condition-based maintenance (CBM) is a tried and trusted technique within the world of manufacturing. It helps to improve the overall machine efficiency and ensures timely and accurate repair of machines by keeping a constant watch on their condition, and identifying errors before they can cause problems.
Any industry that uses a lot of independent machines can derive enormous benefit from CBM. For this reason, at SKF we see considerable potential for CBM in the marine sector. For example, the needs of marine customers are similar to those in manufacturing: improving maintenance procedures, boosting uptime and cutting costs. However, the industryís natural conservatism coupled with reliability, stringent regulations and ever tougher economic conditions, means that the take-up of CBM has been relatively slow.
SKF has been working with OEMs in the marine sector for many years, helping them improve the performance of their machinery. Following our strategic acquisition of Blohm + Voss Industries (BVI) in Germany in 2013, we are now in a position where we have far greater exposure to the end user market thanks to its worldwide leading network of sales and service partners. BVI is a leading supplier of marine components including sterntubes, seals and hydrodynamic bearings, and works closely with shipyards and marine operating companies.
In many respects, the BVI acquisition has also allowed us to accelerate and improve our CBM services to the marine sector. Customers will benefit from SKFís expertise as a knowledge engineering company in combination with BVIís focus on shipbuilding and ship operations. In particular, weíre now developing even more advanced condition monitoring systems, which are based on much broader end user feedback and application data. Together, our solutions will help to address future challenges in the ever changing environment of the marine industry.
Shipbuilding is under as much pressure as any other manufacturing sector, while ship owners are also trying to make their operations as lean as possible. They must minimise cost, by for example optimising trade routes, reducing cruise speeds and improving fuel efficiency to protect operating margins.
Although cost-conscious ship owners might see CBM as an unnecessary expense, the reverse is in fact true. By investing in the CBM technologies that are already widely used and proven for reducing machine operating and maintenance costs in the manufacturing sector, ship owners and operators can benefit from the efficiencies that arise from greater machine reliability; in many instances this can have a positive impact on the number of days that each vessel can remain at sea.
The early adopters of CBM have been the highest value vessels, such as cruise ships, and those used in the oil and gas sector. Increasingly, however, we are seeing the implementation of CBM technology in a far wider range of cargo ships, large and small.
Traditionally, a ship used in the offshore sector is brought into dry-dock every two and a half years for a complete overhaul of on-board machinery; for merchant ships generally this period is longer, at around five years. In each case, every day that the ship is in dry-dock represents lost revenue.
Investing in automated condition-based monitoring systems could potentially delay the need for these major overhauls Ė meaning that a ship will undergo fewer major maintenance operations during its lifetime and spend more time at sea. Routine repairs can also be carried out with more confidence, and be planned so that they can be completed while vessels are in port or at sea, so that they do not affect normal operations.
Data can be gathered in a number of ways. On-board engineers can use instruments such as SKFís Microlog handheld devices to carry out portable data collection, or use online systems, where fixed sensors mounted in dangerous or hard to access areas are hard wired back to a central on-board control room. Data can therefore be analysed by ship engineers or, more commonly for critical equipment, be transmitted to a shore-based facility for interpretation by remote experts.
Of course, there are some key differences that do not translate directly from the manufacturing to the marine sector. One is the availability of network or satellite bandwidth.
By its very nature, condition monitoring generates large amounts of data. In a manufacturing environment, with on-site analysis, data overload is rarely a problem. On-board ship, once the vessel is out of reach of land based communications networks, it is impractical to send such high volumes of data over satellite links, especially if it has to compete for bandwidth with voice or other more critical communication. Information must therefore firstly be carefully analysed and filtered, with only the most relevant data being transmitted for on-shore analysis.
And itís not just maintenance data thatís important. CBM is increasingly moving into performance monitoring too. Ship owners require a large array of information, such as fuel consumption and emission levels to optimise operations.
New solutions are emerging to help meet these needs. For example, BVIís Turbulo BlueMon is an emission monitoring system that records everything in one place. By linking to GPS position data, the system helps compliance with marine MARPOL conventions, so that if a ship is approaching an area with higher emission standards a warning can be sent to the bridge so that emission levels can be rechecked. Data remains available for 24 months, allowing later verification of compliance.
This and other systems are effectively filling in the shipís logbook automatically Ė the kind of operation that is likely to become far more common in future. Fitting this technology to an entire fleet would allow a ship owner to benchmark its environmental performance against industry standards, or identify the best performing crews and vessels.
There is a further benefit of centralised data collection, in that it helps to overcome a common trend within the marine industry Ė that of engineers rotating between ships, with knowledge of individual vessels inevitably being lost as staff move on.
SKF can also provide a Client Needs Analysis (CNA) to ship owners, helping them to improve on-board maintenance procedures. The CNA is a survey of around 40 questions, which are put to the maintenance operations team. It takes a full day of interviews to gather the relevant information. SKF then generates a score of a companyís maintenance performance, often revealing immediate ways to boost procedures and cut costs. In addition, the report provides a roadmap for future improvements. CNAs are widely used, and proven, within manufacturing, but still in their early days in the marine industry. Nonetheless, they can be an excellent first step in planning the introduction of an on-board CBM solution.
The marine industry will not adopt CBM overnight. The main focus of marine engineers is reliability, as a means of optimising vessel availability; this has historically been carried out using visual or time-based maintenance inspections, so changing the culture will take time.
Change will be driven by economic pressures and by ever tougher regulations on, for example, emission controls and machine safety. It will also be driven by companies such as SKF entering into strategic alliances, with the goal of developing new and innovative technologies that offer ship-wide and fleet-wide condition monitoring.
Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by marine engineers is to manage multiple on-board machines; indeed, in many instances there are so many machines, from many different suppliers, on each ship that itís much like a floating factory. For SKF, with our background in manufacturing, plus our experience and alliances in marine applications, we are able to offer knowledge engineering solutions that help OEMs improve the performance and reliability of their systems, and enable ship owners and operators to increase the time that each vessel spends profitably at sea.