Automation enters the fray

31 Mar 2014
Motorship, marine engineering, history

Motorship, marine engineering, history

Automation was the hot topic in 1964. The April issue of The Motor Ship devoted several articles to the subject.

One of the articles described a paper, from Elliott Marine Automation, which examined the costs and benefits of this new trend. Interestingly, the authors disliked the term ‘automation’, preferring to use ‘control engineering’, on the grounds that true automation was not yet achievable in the merchant shipping industry. They mentioned the apparent high cost of machinery automation, and queried the reasoning for building ‘marine margins’ into combined engine and bridge control because suitable equipment had already been developed for industries where reliability and accuracy were important, and where the environments were just as difficult.

The type of system described would hardly be termed ‘automation’ today, it was in fact quite normal alarm and control, so maybe the authors were justified in their dislike of the term. To provide this basic level of machinery control, in a typical 20,000bhp motor vessel, would involve some £30,000 to £40,000 purchase cost, or a mean value of some £63,000 installed. Annual savings, resulting from fuel savings, extended liner life, better control of thermal efficiency, reduced standby time, and fewer breakdowns, were estimated at £5,400. Reduced manpower was seen as a secondary benefit, but could account for savings of £8,400 per annum. So a return on investment in fewer than four years would be possible. Costs from 50 years ago come into perspective when we consider that the £8,400 saving in manpower was as a result of lower wages and overhead costs, throughemploying three fewer officers and three fewer ratings.

A slightly different type of automation was a ‘data logger’ manufactured by Vosper of Portsmouth, UK, for the Alfred Holt liner Centaur. A sizeable console, it acted as a device for recording engine telegraph signals, engine speeds and rudder angles, plotted against time. With today’s electronic devices this would be a ridiculously simple process, but the 1964 version relied on clockwork timers and seven mechanical servomechanisms, showing just how far some aspects of our life have advanced in these few years.

Another foretaste of things to come was shown in one of the ships featured, a “£1.3million, 20.1 knot Japanese Economy Liner”. Thinking back to the afore-mentioned engineer officers’ annual salaries, this ship, the 12,897dwt Yamashiro Maru represented quite a substantial capital investment, but in return her owners received a truly state-of-the-art ship by early 1960s standards. In advance of current trends, great emphasis was placed on the hull form, and after testing more than 30 different model hulls, the designers opted for very fine forward lines, a parallel midships section and full water stern lines. Rather than the protruding bulbous bow, which was beginning to be more widely adopted, Yamashiro Maru employed a very short bulbous forefoot, which did not extend beyond the forward bulwark. With a block coefficient of 0.56, the designers described the hull form as ‘epochal’. The engine, a nine-cylinder Mitsubishi turbocharged two-stroke of 750mm bore and 1,500mm stroke, was rated at 13,000bhp at 124rpm, which enabled a speed of 22.45 knots to be recorded on sea trials, though normal operating speed was 20.1 knots. Main engine fuel consumption was recorded as 46.55t/day of 500sec HFO. As befitted the times, the ship was designed for remote operation of the machinery, from a separate control room featuring mimic diagrams on the bulkheads. Such was the degree of automation that the ship operated with a total of 40 crew members, including five engineer officers and seven engine room crew. The `150m long Yamashiro Maru was in service with NYK Line between Japan and Europe, operating via the Suez Canal.