Integrated Control Solutions with Power Dense Circuit Breakers Cut Commissioning Time

Self-contained engine control room modules from Siemens Solutions Partner EPD help ship builders chart cost-effective course.

Specialty vessels are everywhere. From dredges, oil platform supply boats, anchor tugs and service ships, to research ships and floating casinos, these craft are hard at work plying the seas of maritime commerce. To do their jobs effectively, specialty vessels often require sophisticated propulsion and positioning control to keep them in the right place at the right time.

Drill ships, for example, use dynamic positioning employing powerful thrusters tied into global positioning systems to keep the hull in a stationary position—usually within a 5 to 10-foot diameter circle over a sea-bed well head. Meanwhile, supply vessels must keep perfect station alongside it, in all seas and weather, often without anchors. When anchors are deployed, anchor-handling towing support vessels need precise control to manage line-pull, DC motor winches up to 600-metric-tons, for hoisting and positioning the massive anchors of the ships and oil platforms it serves.

Platform supply vessels have their own special needs. These craft, some as much as 280 feet long, not only have to maintain station, they literally have tons of materials to handle and transfer at sea. Cargo runs the gamut—from cement and drilling mud, diesel fuel and welding gases to potable water and food—everything a working oil platform needs must be picked, placed, pumped or positioned from the engine control room.

Over time, specialty vessel builders were increasingly being challenged economically and competitively by the escalating costs associated with the installation and commissioning of control systems in shipyards.

“Shipyards are notoriously tough on electronics and their systems,” says Jim Whitley, director of Technical Services for Gulfmark Americas, part of Gulfmark Offshore, one of the world’s major oil services fleet operators. “In a sense, shipyards fear electronics,” he explains. “The wiring and testing is complicated and takes a lot of man-hours. It’s painful, time-consuming and all of it has to be done around other tradesmen, who may use a circuit breaker or other critical electrical equipment as a step-ladder if need-be.”

Electronic Power Design, Inc., (EPD) decided that the best way to help slow escalating control system commissioning costs for builders like Gulfmark Americas was to take the entire control integration process out of the shipyard, put it in a factory and simplify the entire process from stem to stern.

EPD’s breakthrough innovation? A self-contained modular engine control room, manufactured in a controlled environment in one of EPD’s factories, and then delivered to the shipyard for installation.

According to John Norwood, EPD’s vice president for business development, “the engine control room is the vessel’s central control system, tying together its power generation, propulsion, dynamic positioning and other operational systems.” The engine control room is delivered with most of the electrical power distribution and management components (primarily sourced from Siemens), fully integrated and tested. Once installed in a vessel, workers need only to remove associated panels to connect the power and control cables. During commissioning, EPD engineers and electricians verify external connections and power up the various systems.

For Gulfmark Americas that means the engine control room can be installed in one day, something that accelerates a vessel’s commissioning by approximately three weeks. With platform supply vessels commanding day rates as much as $15,000, 21 more days of commissioning translates to more than $300,000 in lost leasing revenue-earning potential.

Another advantage of the engine control room, says Whitley, is that it allows the engine room to be put on deck instead of below. This provides two benefits: One is that the platform supply vessel gains more cargo storage space below deck; the other is that it allows the heat generated in the engine room to be vented more directly, saving space and costs associated with air-handling and conditioning with previous vessel designs. Whitley estimates these cost savings to be about $50,000 per vessel.

The 30-ton EPD control room module is approximately 40-ft long, 17-ft wide and 14-feet high. Among its hundreds of components, system control and power needs are managed by Siemens SIMOREG™ variable speed drives, Siemens SIVACON™ switchgear/ MCC, Siemens TIASTAR™ MCCs as well as Siemens SENTRON™ WL and VL circuit breakers for precise power management and safety.

“The WL and VL circuit breakers are ‘powerdense,’” says Norwood. “In the marine world, especially offshore supply vessels, space is precious. On land, you might want less density and more space surrounding a device, so you can get around inside to maintain it. But that’s not the case in the maritime industry.” He adds that both lines’ modularity make the devices easy to integrate into EPD’s switchgear. In fact, Siemens WL breakers are about half the size of its biggest competitor.

The reliability and maintainability of the WL and VL lines of circuit breakers are also critical to maritime operations, where service calls must be handled at a moment’s notice worldwide. Global business means meeting global standards and particularly important to EPD’s international business model is Siemens adherence to a wide range of standards, including ANSI/NEMA and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

As for the Siemens WL and VL circuit breakers as well as the other Siemens electrical equipment that go into Gulfmark’s vessels, Whitley commends their reliability and engineering. “We’ve had very few problems with Siemens equipment. It does its job well.”

Norwood concurs, “As a Siemens Solution Partner, EPD’s reputation and business rests on the high levels of engineering, quality and reliability that Siemens brings to its entire portfolio. The features, compactness and modularity of the WL and VL circuit breaker lines reflect those values and have helped EPD’s success with the engine control room.”

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