European Threat Perspective

How CBM helps marine operators run a tight ship

01 November 2021

Condition-based monitoring (CBM) is increasingly being used to help ship owners and operators to improve asset performance – and reduce costs in the process.

All industries are under pressure to operate profitability, and the marine sector is no different.

Fleet owners and operators must balance a number of competing issues. As well as factors such as maximising crew safety, they must follow complex (and costly) environmental rules, such as those to limit emissions. All of this must be done while running a tight ship – by maintaining the performance of onboard machinery. On a modern vessel, this encompasses a variety of equipment, from motors and fans to gearboxes and pumps. An operator must maximise the performance of these assets, while striving to minimise the cost of maintenance.

Increasing the uptime of a ship is straightforward in principle: make sure that onboard machinery performs reliably and does not fail. In practice, this is a challenge. At sea, components are typically working flat out. Their condition needs to be assessed – but without having to take each one apart. Doing this quickly contributes towards the smooth, profitable operation of any vessel. The problem is more acute for specialised vessels such as fuel tankers, as they are particularly expensive to maintain.

Health monitor

Traditional maintenance involved waiting for an asset to fail, and then fixing it. This will not work in the modern world. As parts such as bearings begin to wear down, it increases the likelihood of a breakdown – and catastrophic failure. In a traditional factory setting, unscheduled downtime is around three times more expensive than a planned shutdown – and this is magnified in a marine environment. When a ship is far out at sea, fixing a problem is far more complicated and expensive than it would be in a factory. This is why onboard condition-based monitoring (CBM) makes so much sense for ship operators and owners.

CBM can offer a constant ‘health check’ of onboard assets, to identify potential problems before they become serious. These can be assessed – and fixed if required. This helps to avoid serious failures, which helps to raise vessel performance. The principle can be applied at many levels – from a single asset on one ship, to every machine across a whole fleet.

Data collection can also be performed in a number of ways. In the simplest case, it is done using a handheld device – with a focus on the most critical asset or assets. On a grander scale, information can be collected automatically from multiple pieces of equipment. This data can be analysed on the ship but is typically transmitted to an onshore ‘hub’ – which it undergoes more detailed analysis by experts.

Data collection

SKF supplies a marine condition monitoring kit, which helps crew collect vibration data easily and interpret it properly. The kit includes a handheld data collector and other necessary equipment. The software – which is specific to the marine industry – converts the captured data into an easily understand, colour-coded result. Such quick analysis of an asset’s condition allows crew to decide if it needs repair – or further analysis by onshore experts at SKF.

A variant on the basic kit is a version that includes a route-based solution. The main difference is that it provides more regular data. This allows tracking of how a fault is developing, so that predictive maintenance can be optimised. In this way, it is possible to extend time between repairs and eliminate machine problems quickly. This solution incorporates SKF Enlight software, which connects to SKF’s remote diagnostic service. The software has a simple interface, which presents all the necessary information on the dashboard. Live data analysis is also possible.

SKF Enlight gives instant access to the company’s remote diagnostic experts. They can access and analyse the data and make maintenance recommendations. Results are presented on the SKF Enlight dashboard, and this is immediately converted into specific tasks for individual crew members.

Bandwidth issues

One specific issue that relates to the marine industry is the challenge of transferring large amounts of data using a limited bandwidth.

Much of the power of CBM is about what happens to the data after it has been collected. It is the data analysis – often using a remote expert – that helps to spot problems and improve performance. This large data set is typically uploaded to the cloud. ‘On land’, this is not a problem – as there is almost no limit on upload speed. However, the process will take much longer at sea, due to the limited speed of satellite communications. For this reason, it needs to be done in a different way.

At sea, data is collected and only later sent for onshore analysis. However, the bandwidth issue means it is not practical to send such enormous amounts. The answer is to analyse and filter the data in advance – and send only the most relevant data for onshore analysis. Another factor is that many other types of information take priority over maintenance and operations data – which makes a smart filtering system even more important.

Environmental standards

In addition to handling onboard maintenance data, CBM is increasingly dealing with other issues such as performance monitoring. This is because fleet operators are increasingly required to collect many other types of information, such as fuel consumption and emission levels.

Linking directly to GPS position data helps compliance with shipping regulations such as MARPOL. For instance, as a ship approaches an area with higher emission standards, the bridge can be alerted – so that emission levels can be re-checked. Data remains available for 24 months, allowing later verification of compliance.

Systems like this effectively fill in a ship’s logbook automatically. This way of working is likely to become more common in future. By installing this kind of technology across a whole fleet, an owner could benchmark their environmental performance against existing industry standards.

Ship owners may see CBM as an extra expense – at a time when they are trying to reduce costs. However, implementing it at any level can have a positive effect on performance. Keeping a closer eye on machine health reduces breakdowns and cuts the need for maintenance. At the same time, linking CBM to other systems – such as emission monitoring – offers an efficient way of meeting their obligations to tightening environmental regulation.


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