Automation & integration drive Norwegian Control Systems' Fjord1 project
The Naval Architect: March 2018
Traditionally, vessel efficiency improvements have been enabled through engineering – designers and manufacturers have sought to consistently improve componentry, either by releasing new models or designing retrofittable parts for existing equipment, to enhance vessel performance by bringing each element up to an optimum standard.
This approach still continues today, and is arguably one of the key responsibilities for naval architects and engineers, given that efficient equipment means sustainable operation. However, the ongoing pursuit of efficiency and the ever-increasing pace of development have created a situation in which some manufacturers claim that they are close to reaching peak efficiency using engineering alone. In January’s The Naval Architect, for instance, engine giant MAN Diesel & Turbo commented: “With the constraints given by engine design itself […] the efficiency of a modern two-stroke main engine and a modern four-stroke auxiliary engine is in fact close to the maximum theoretical efficiency.” Although MAN acknowledged that “further improvements can be made,” they predicted this to be in the region of 1-2%. While this margin is of course still valuable, such predictions will lead many designers, owners and operators to question how they will meet ever-tighter regulation – and save on fuel costs – when they cannot rely on a regular programme of equipment upgrades.
With the rapid development of digital technology for maritime applications, however, integration and automation have come to the fore as tools that can secure continuing efficiency improvements. The former generally refers to the assimilation of the various components and systems aboard the vessel into the bridge, creating a centralised platform where whole vessel operation and performance can be monitored. The latter involves digitising the control of these components and systems, promoting ease-of-use. The two concepts tend to work in hand in the form of an ‘integrated automation system’ (IAS) – a scalable hardware and software package which brings a large degree of control of the vessel into the bridge by collecting performance data and providing it to crew to aid with their decision making and equipment adjustment using the control stations. With real-time data on vessel operation, crew can make operational changes on a situational basis – reflecting meteorological conditions, for instance – thus achieving efficiency improvements flexibly and effectively.
Ålesund-based Norwegian Control Systems, formerly known as Havyard Power & Systems, has been involved with integrated automation systems for almost a decade, putting their offering on the market back in 2008. Known for designing and supplying electrical and control systems to a range of vessels, including ferries and those involved in offshore and fishing, they have since branched out into a range of integrated and automated solutions, tied in to their modular, scalable “concept bridge” turnkey solution.
Recent projects include the provision of automation and bridge solutions, as well as propulsion and power machinery, to the world’s biggest wellboat, Ronja Storm, for Sølvtrans. Havyard Group, which owns Norwegian Control Systems, was the sole supplier on this project, pulling in a number of its brands to provide design and engineering services, outfitting, and fish handling equipment, complementing the work of NCS.
Another significant project – for Norway’s largest ferry operator, Fjord 1 – involves the duo of Norwegian Control Systems and sister company Norwegian Electric Systems. Announced in January, the companies are set to deliver IAS and concept bridges for five brand new Havyard Design 936 electric-hybrid ferries, complementing work they are already contracted for on four other Fjord 1 vessels (three Multi Maritime Design MM 62 FD EL designs and one Fjellstrand Zerocat120).
The total value of the contract is reportedly NOK21 million, with the first delivery scheduled for later this year. The ferries will operate between Hareid-Sulesund and Magerholm-Sykkylven, routes which are close to NCS’s Ålesund base.
The GMR100 software platform that underlies NCS’s IAS system was developed by Høglund Marine Automation, and works across the various products that make up the system.
The most basic aspect of the IAS is the alarm and monitoring system, which allows crew to keep track of equipment operation parameters and alerts them to any malfunctions or abnormal behaviour. This can be tied into NCS’s Emergency Shutdown System (ESD), which shuts down equipment such as diesel generators, ventilation fans, HVAC units and oil pumps in the event of an emergency such as fire or an escape of toxic gas. Whilst the ESD uses the same operator stations as the IAS, all controller functions are independent.
The IAS alarm and monitoring system also includes a “playback” function. If there is a partial or total switchboard blackout, all vessels alarms sound, making it difficult to determine the cause of the incident. However, “playback” will allow crew to scroll back in time and view the control stations’ digital displays as the issue occurred, helping them to identify the culprit, for instance critical temperature, high voltage or a power surge.
Beyond the alarm and monitoring system, the IAS on the ferries will incorporate tank sounding functionality, in which tank pressure transmitters connected to the IAS’s IO cards will handle level indication and volume calculations. Automating this process saves crew having to manually sound the ferries’ tanks. The IAS will also allow for the control of pumps, valves and the HVAC system from workstations on the bridge, further promoting ease of operation for the ferries’ crew.
The technology integrated within the IAS that is most concerned with energy efficiency is the Ship Performance Monitor (SPM), designed to support the implementation of the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP). SPM will monitor the power consumption of all the major consumers on board the ferries with its power management system (PMS), measuring fuel flow to the diesel engines with flowometers or from the engine’s control system directly, plus the electric power (kW) used, as in the case of the hybrid vessels. The data collected will then be reported to crew and uploaded to the cloud for shore-based fleet managers, who will be able to determine inefficiencies, the operating profile of the vessels, and overall fuel usage, with an eye to reducing consumption and therefore emissions. As ferries, the vessels will likely perform a repetitive route, and will thus benefit from the optimising capability of the SPM.
To further build upon the repetitive routing typical of ferries, three of the vessels NCS are working with – Multi Maritime designs – will be installed with NCS’s pioneering Auto-X Fjord-crossing system, which will be tested in May. Although not strictly part of the IAS, Auto-X can be integrated with the system, and operated from the same bridge control stations. The software will control the vessels’ propeller speed and power, setting a track with defined acceleration and retardation curves that will offer the most economical route, which is calculated to coincide with a set arrival time. Crossing speed is adjusted throughout the journey to ensure that energy consumption is as low as possible.
Auto-X represents NCS’s first step towards autonomous vessels, an area in which they hope to conduct further research and create new technologies, reflected in their membership of the Norwegian Forum for Autonomous Vessels (NFAS).
Integrated, automated and efficient
The suite of integrated NCS solutions to be fitted out on board Fjord1’s ferries exemplifies the priorities of modern operators – efficiency, ease-of-use, and optimisation. In contrast to equipment overhauls, which can be costly, time-consuming, and aren’t guaranteed to offer optimal performance in all conditions, technologies such as the IAS allow for ad-hoc performance monitoring and adjustment, a much more flexible approach to efficiency improvements that works day-to-day rather than year-to-year. Moreover, the modularity and scalability of NCS’s technologies aboard the ferries will allow for easy integration of new software and features; NCS have touted LNG bunkering functionality, for instance, as a possible future addition to the IAS. With many other similar projects occurring across the shipping industry, it is clear that integration and automation have joined engineering as the pathways to a lower-emission, lower-cost future.