Performance monitoring on ships

Performance monitoring on ships is a relatively new development in ship operation that has its origins in the trim optimisation software developed by several companies in the mid-2000s. At that point in time, the ability to transfer large volumes of data ashore was something that most ships did not have so the software systems on the market were aimed at giving crew on board information that could be actioned in real time or used for improving future operations.

Initial reaction to the systems on offer was mixed. While generally welcomed by less experienced officers and shore staff who would have eventual access to records to analyse, more experienced navigators sometimes felt their skills and experience gained over years at sea were somehow being undermined.

The developers of these systems were mostly ex-seafarers themselves and understood that trim optimisation – keeping the vessel on as near an even keel as possible given cargo, fuel and ballast conditions along with prevailing sea and weather – was key to reducing fuel use under all weather and vessel loading conditions.

The market place was very soon becoming crowded with the likes of Eniram, acquired in 2016 by Wärtsilä and now assimilated into the Wärtsilä Voyage division, Kyma, Marorka, Force and GreenSteam being just some of the early pioneers. As examples of the benefits of digitalisation, these systems are definitely among the front runners and have been great demonstrators of how simple data can be used to very good effect.

Whilst all of the systems have their own unique differences, basically all collect a wide range of real time measurements such as inclination of the ship both fore and aft and transversally, ship speed, engine power and load, fuel use, wind and tide strength and direction, capacity of ballast, fuel and other easily moved stores.

With the data acquired, the software can rapidly calculate all of the possible permutations and present the information for the crew to take any necessary remedial action. Most of the systems can also make recommendations or show the effect of a possible change in one of the parameters. For example, a change in speed, engine load or course direction.

Even as stand alone systems on board individual ships, these systems did produce some significant fuel savings but improvements in the software and growing use of communications would mean they could develop into full performance monitoring on ships solutions for the shipowner.

Initially, most of the owners that wanted to take the next step were content with receiving accumulated data from ships at regular intervals which could be analysed at leisure and where considered necessary new working procedures and instructions sent to ships. However, it was not long before the software developers had enhanced and upgraded their products to allow transmission in real time with fleet and online versions. Options included direct transmission to a shore office or a cloud-based reporting system that allowed personnel to access from anywhere at any time. 

The spread of sensors and data collected has expanded to cover many more aspects. For example, the Marorka Onboard system can use computer models of the ship’s hull and energy systems for monitoring the efficiency of electricity production and consumption as well as the overall efficiency of the on-board electrical grid; Improving the efficiency of electrical power production and consumption by managing generator loads and reducing unnecessary use of electricity; Providing specialised analysis and advisory support for increasing the energy management of individual systems such as: waste heat recovery processes, cargo pumps and refrigeration.

As far as fuel is concerned, the Marorka system can monitor which type of fuel is being used and relate it to areas of trading. It also details simultaneous consumption by different users.  Consumption balance monitoring and registration of discrepancies between reported fuel additions and measured fuel consumption can identify leaks from tanks or fuels lines.

Depending upon the ships systems and equipment suppliers, data can be assimilated from virtually anywhere giving a full picture for the ship and shore office. The information can provide early warning of equipment failure and also identify when a ship may be approaching the limits of performance and consumption limits set out in charter parties.

The online modules that can be integrated into most systems automatically transfer data to shore and can even simultaneously display data from a whole fleet on a large office display so that any ship which is not performing optimally at that moment can be identified.

Several of the systems can be programmed to identify operating profiles on regularly used routes that minimise fuel use and modify these based on changing weather and sea state forecasts.

The field of performance monitoring on ships is not limited to specialist software providers with companies such as ABB with its ABB Ability Tekomar XPERT family of products and Kongsberg’s Vessel Insight systems taking advantage of the experience of those companies in providing engine management systems.

Most performance optimisation products take into account fuel consumption and variables related to outside influences but do not link in any way to the engine management. Thus, an opportunity to improve efficiency is missed. Digitalisation at the engine level already provides services such as predictive maintenance. However, it can also provide instant, in-depth analysis of the engine with real time advice which can be implemented to reduce fuel consumption. This can ensure the engine is operating at maximum performance and help extend the lifetime of the engine by monitoring asset health.

There are many factors that can increase fuel consumption and although the data is being collected and recorded regularly, small changes that make performance sub-optimal can go unnoticed until they reach pre-set levels that trigger warnings. For example, a drop in scavenge air pressure could be caused by something as simple as a clogged turbocharger filter and a reduction in turbocharger efficiency caused by worn nozzle rings. The deterioration will be gradual in the same way as fouling growth on the hull increases drag and causes a rise in fuel consumption.

The latest trend in performance monitoring on ships involves its evolution into what is often called an Internet of Things (IoT). This is being enabled by communications services providers actively encouraging the use of third party applications on their platforms. An example is Inmarsat’s Fleet Data solution. This is a bandwidth-inclusive IoT platform that allows ship operators to instantly collect data from onboard sensors, upload the data to a secure cloud-based platform, and interface with applications from third-party application developers. More on other methods here.