Integrated control – the ‘whole ship’ system

29 Feb 2012
Integrated bridge systems now involve more elements than just navigation

Integrated bridge systems now involve more elements than just navigation

Dag Pike looks at the variety of systems which combine control of several onboard systems in a fully-integrated fashion.

Integrated monitoring and control systems have been used on ships for a long time, primarily in association with engine monitoring but additionally for cargo control. The concept of monitoring processes on board ships was a natural progression from the control processes developed for land industrial systems but with the added challenge of installing them on a moving platform that could be subject to quite high stresses and where reliability was paramount. Developing integrated systems for marine use has been a slow and cautious process, that not only demanded the highest level of reliability and redundancy, but also had to meet the acceptance of operators who were instinctively cynical of electronic systems.

Acceptance has proved easier since advanced navigation systems have become the norm, where the advantages can be appreciated quickly. This has led to individual systems being developed for navigation, cargo control, stability and machinery monitoring and control. Keeping these systems independent ensured that any failure in one did not affect the others - but now that concern is disappearing as all onboard systems are becoming more and more integrated.

What was probably the first full commitment to integrated electronic systems came with the introduction of dynamic positioning (DP). With DP the navigation and machinery controls have to be fully integrated for the system to work and there has to be a considerable level of redundancy built into the systems so that no single failure can threaten the often delicate and life-sensitive operations that are carried out under DP control.

The benefits offered by DP control were realised in the offshore oil industry and are being exploited in the wind farm construction and dredging sectors. Now for the first time they are making the step into general shipping circles. The need for, and benefits of, fully integrated systems has become apparent as ships have become more and more complex. The confidence developed from DP systems has made the market more receptive to further integration. The demand for more integration has come partly from demands for greater efficiency and fuel savings, combined with the reduction in crew numbers, meaning that it has become an increasing challenge to operate a ship easily, safely and efficiently.

Back in 1997 the European Commission started the DISC project which was aimed at establishing an open European, and hopefully worldwide, standard for integrated ship control systems. The study addressed such factors as hardware, software, and human factors in maritime transport. One of the aims was to make the standard as flexible as possible to allow it to be adapted to the ever changing world of shipping.

Konsberg, which has been a pioneer in ship automation systems, offers a range of ship monitoring and control systems and is moving towards the integration of individual systems. Further integration can lead to the leveraging of energy management and integrated navigation solutions, and offers efficiency optimisation and emissions reduction benefits. Route planning, optimal engine configuration, control of the vessel trim and decision support will increase the vessel’s fuel economy and reduce the maintenance requirements of the ship’s systems. In optimising engine performance, and ensuring maximum power availability with high efficiency, fuel consumption is reduced along with the volume of harmful emissions.

Wärtsilä is following a similar track with its 3C system, which the company claims represents new thinking, as the first system to integrate the entire vessel’s control into one solution. With the introduction of 3C, Wärtsilä’s expertise in integrating its own products and systems, such as automation, propulsion and engines, with other operationally relevant equipment and systems to obtain a truly fully integrated solution, is again highlighted. In this case, all the needed ship’s controls and alarms are integrated with a common interface for the highest efficiency and best possible situational awareness. The Wärtsilä 3C has been designed in co-operation with experienced maritime professionals to ensure fluent control of the vessel, and to make ship operation easier and safer than ever before.

With the Wärtsilä 3C, owners can remotely optimise their assets and achieve real-time fleet management. The system is supported by Wärtsilä’s global service capabilities to maximize the availability and efficiency of a ship’s crucial operating equipment throughout its lifecycle. This global network is enhanced by Wärtsilä’s own training facility, which can provide the essential instruction on all ship operating systems.

The Wärtsilä 3C system complies with all major classification societies and notation requirements, and is designed to meet the most rigorous standards, even when being used in the most difficult operating environments. The modularised components and customised design allows the Wärtsilä 3C to be adapted to the requirements of all types of vessels. Furthermore, regardless of the ship’s level of redundancy, it will maintain the same high system design and component quality.

While Wärtsilä has been involved in the development of cargo and machinery monitoring and control systems for many years, the company turned to Raytheon Anschütz, a proven provider of advanced maritime navigational systems, for the navigation component of their new system.

By being able to offer a totally integrated solution, Wärtsilä claims to offer cost saving benefits to both shipyards and owners. Operating costs are the main concern of most shipowners and Wärtsilä thinks that 3C is an important step in the company’s strategy of providing a full range of efficient and environmentally sustainable ship power systems from a single source. In the long term this integrated system is expected to lead to significant fuel and emissions saving, while hastening the development of future solutions, such as economical autopilots, and other innovations such as weather routing.

Aaron Bresnahan, the vice president of special vessels in the Wärtsilä Ship Power Division, commented: “With Wärtsilä 3C, Wärtsilä can now provide, manage and guarantee maintenance for the full scope of all ship operating systems, which further strengthens our position as the industry’s leading systems integrator and solution provider. It is important to note that we are not merely the integrator for the ship’s controls, but we also have the most innovative technological know-how on the market together with a wide range of services. The Wärtsilä 3C will be the nerve centre for the vessel, and will definitely simplify operations. It also adds features, maximises the ship’s power efficiency, and extends its lifecycle”.

There will need to be a strong emphasis on alarm systems within any automated system of this complexity. Alarms warn of any failure and when one sounds it can divert the attention of the watch-keeper away from his normal duties. Alarms not only need to indicate failure but should also offer possible solutions and/or an indication of the additional risk levels involved with the failure. There is also the worry with these fully integrated systems that they rely on a single source of position information, namely GPS.

A failure of the GPS, perhaps through jamming or spoofing, could lead to a major emergency in confined waters, because so many of the ship systems rely on a GPS input and this could lead to a proliferation of alarms in the event of a GPS failure. While there are alternative satellite positioning systems coming on stream, these could be equally vulnerable to jamming and spoofing and the Royal Institute of Navigation has been pointing out the need for a back-up alternative for some time now. The best alternative positioning system is a terrestrial system that operates on frequencies remote from those used by satellite systems and is an advanced system based on the old Loran C. The move towards greater integration highlights the need for the development of alternative positioning systems, which has led to calls for the early implementation of e-Loran. This and a focus on ways to handle alarm systems, are the pressing needs for today’s advanced ship integrated systems.

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