Technology-Friend or a Foe-Machinery space
Updated: May 15, 2020
We have been talking in last few posts on the technological advances on the ship mostly related to the bridge of the vessel. Let’s now go down to the engine room and see what’s been happening there in the last 15 years
The Engine room is a vast area of the ship and Engineers work amidst lot of sound, higher temperatures and an enclosed atmosphere unlike deck officers who could just walk to the bridge wing for fresh air. Making the life of Engineers is hence very important and we should say that it is a continuous process and surely the Engine rooms are surely a better place than they were some 15 years ago.
We should be thanking the markets, regulatory bodies and the ship owners who have all worked together to make the Engine room better and better.
Engine room can be broadly divided into 2 categories
1) The roaring machinery themselves, which is the hardware
2) The LCD screens, the alarm systems who control them, the software.
There have been improvements in both areas considerable and the improvements keep happening as I write the post ever so at an increasingly faster pace.
Changes in the Hardware-With the increasing market pressures, the ever increasing regulatory requirements on emissions and the well-known cyclic nature of the shipping industry, Engines and other machineries had to be more fuel efficient, more maintenance free and more durable with consistency in performance. Technology played a very important role in bettering the Hardware with computer designing spinning out more and more models, which could be prototyped and tested and faster thanks to 3D printing and virtual testing. With the computers helping, the manufactures could prototype much more models in a shorter time with slight modifications in each to study the suitability to the modern ships.
The second part of the Hard ware s the fuel used and how the Hardware would change based on the fuel on which the engine/machinery would operate. Again there were regulatory requirements and the market requirements which motivated the manufacturers to try and keep trying to use various fuels, some fuels being tested and also being used in some engines on some specific vessels are as follows
1) LNG-which is coming up very fast and we have started seeing LNG bunkering vessels and bunkering hubs
2) Nuclear power
3) waste-derived liquid bio methane and
4) Even Wind to augment the propulsion system and reduce fuel usage
The days for fossil fuels are surely numbered even faster than it was expected.
Now coming to the software part, which in compared to the hard ware part has been improved at a faster rate. The controls of the machineries have become more sophisticated, more automated and also in some cases use Artificial intelligence. The controls of the machinery were earlier all analog with dials and manual values, which has now converted to digital displays, touch screens and solenoids.
Let’s now delve into the Pros and Cons of the Digitization for the seafarers and the shipping industry as a whole
1) Excellent advancements in main engines to improve performance, the major one when companies look of Engineers being the experience in Camless or Electronic Engines
2) Technology has increased responsiveness of the machinery by way of better control.
3) The machineries have become more fuel efficient, durable and less prone to breakdowns
4) The machinery health can be better determined by more sensors and alarms for better preventive maintenance
5) Digitization has improved efficiency by unmanned machinery spaces where Engineers are not needed after their regular day job until in case of a break down
6) Technology has made engine room more ergonomic and easier to move around and work
7) Availability of spare parts and repairs of the machinery have become faster view technology in manufacturing of spares faster and with better quality.
1) Increase in sophistication requires better situational awareness and better understanding of the equipments, there have been cases where the engineers misunderstood the equipments.
2) The navigators would probably be more efficient to develop their situation awareness when looking the outside through the windows, compared to the engineers who must rely on digital information on distributed displays to diagnose what causes an alarm.
3) As they say, Technology is great when it works, as when it does not work the whole Engine room comes to a grinding halt and engineers are not IT experts and hence have to resort back to bypassing and taking over manual control
4) Technology changes contribute to the reduction in the number of crew member meanwhile bring significant increase of workload for the remaining crew without influencing much in hierarchical organizational structure.
5) The Engine Room Panel is flooded with various alarms and displays sometimes to the extent of confusing the watch keeper
6) With each manufacture having his own control panel, the Engine control room now is just a collection of many heterogeneous screen, displays and alarms over whelming the watch keeper. We have seen even addition of a screen in the ECR of the ECDIS and vessel navigation, which may not be called for
7) As we have an Integrated bridge, what is now may be required is an Integrated Engine control room
In summary, even though technology is required and has improved the overall running of more efficient engine room, more work needs to be done on the Man-machine interface which can be further improved!
Hats off to all engineers for the contribution in their part of the ship!!