July 28, 2010 Researchers at the University of Sunderland could save the world's shipping industry millions of pounds in repairs to broken down vessels after developing a computerised warning system which keeps the 'lifeblood' of a ship flowing.
Lube oil is a critical fluid onboard ship. It is the lifeblood of propulsion and power generating engines and any failure in its quality leaves the vessel, its cargo, the community onboard and even the environment in a vulnerable position.
The university's Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice (AMAP) team have now developed a software programme for a sensor-based processing unit -- the Posseidon system -- that can continuously monitor the ship's lubricated system, allowing crews on board to predict any deterioration or contamination in the oil, anticipate problems, allowing them to take action before damage and failure occurs.
The unit is a 'black box' attached to the ship's main engine, and the software which monitors the oil acts as a traffic light system, warning crews if there's a potential problem and even providing solutions on how best to tackle it.
The unit will extend the engine's life, avoid loss of performance and could prevent worst-case catastrophic failures such as a ship floundering through loss of propulsion or a power blackout.
Dr David Baglee, who led the three and a half-year project alongside Dr Mike Knowles believes the technology also has major environmental and ecological benefits in reducing the risk of oil spills at sea if a ship's at risk of breaking down.
He said: "This has been a fantastic project, especially as this is the first time Amap's been involved in a project with the marine industry. It's been exciting and the possibilities for this software are endless. We are even looking at adapting the software for multi-use in other industries such as wind power."
Amap was asked to join the Posseidon Project, due to the centre's expertise in industrial applications and digital engineering technologies. The Posseidon Project is made up of a consortium of maritime partners -- Fundación Tekniker, BP Marine, OelCheck, Martechnic, IMM (International Mercantile Marine), Rina and IB Krates -- who have all had an input into the unit. The Project was funded by the EU as part of Framework Programme 6.
While ships engine rooms have become evermore automated, with sensor systems being put in place to monitor temperature, pressure, fluid level and flow monitoring -- lube oil has remained a void in the engine management system.
Over the past two decades attempts have been made to address this problem only to discover that the necessary techniques do not exists and that the specialised means to develop them are available only outside of the maritime industries.
But Dr Baglee said: "The Possiedon proposal is hopefully, finally an idea whose time has come."
He added: "The main propulsion engine of a ship can circulate 40 tons of expensive lube oil that, in addition to its normal in-service aging, is exposed to contamination factors such as fresh and sea water, fuel oil and the products of combustion from heavy fuel that started its life as refinery waste.
"Also accidental topping-up with the wrong oil is not unheard of. "These operating realities present ships engineers with a degree of jeopardy unacceptable in a modern context. But in the operating environs of the maritime industry they have little choice.
"Therefore the economics surrounding this vital fluid are significant. While engine spare parts are costly, the penalties of interrupted service for a ship can be crippling, costing millions of pounds everyday a vessel is out of action."
The sensor unit will monitor the main properties of the lubricating oil -- viscosity, water-in-oil, base number and impurities -- and oil degradation.
It provides a more precise understanding of the engine's status and wear. This will give crews a head start in taking action and provide the appropriate maintenance measures.
The system is also robust enough to withstand the unique operating environment aboard a ship with motion, vibration, varying temperature and humidity over extended periods of time, without service or specialist attention.
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