One of a vessel owner's largest expenses is, of course, the powering of vessels. The initial purchase, continuing maintenance and repair, qualified personnel and, unfortunately, downtime, make engine expense a primary concern in the allocation of capital.
For the most part, instrumentation to reduce this expense has fallen into two categories. The first being inexpensive, simple, yet effective alarm and/or shutdown systems geared towards preventing catastrophic failure.
The second category is that of more expensive, complex integrated systems that perform these functions as well as providing numerous additional functions such as displays and data collection.
A new breed of electronics hitting the market is designed to fill this void. Perennial Monitoring Systems, Inc. of Baton Rouge, La. offers a wide range of monitoring and diagnostic tools that are designed to provides operators and management a solution that combines the features and benefits of more expensive systems, at a more modest price level.
Initially designed by a diesel service company which profits every time an engine fails, the unit serves the purpose of virtually eliminating these failures. "This is not out of line with our traditional mission," says Whit Kellam, President of Diesel Specialists, LLC and founder of Perennial Monitoring Systems. "Our goal has always been to add value to the customers' operations. We found it amazing that there was no cost-effective solution that truly solved many of our customers' problems with monitoring engine and personnel performance. The Perennial team has developed that solution."
Perennial's first product, the 24/7 EZ-WATCH engine monitor, collects data from up to four different engines and transmissions, with nine sensors on each propulsion package
. It transmits that data via radio to any number of portable LCD displays throughout the vessel. In addition, each LCD acts as an alarm that communicates the specific failure should an engine operate outside the parameters established by management. The unit also has an extra serial port for an additional alarm or shutdown system, providing a two-tier protection system against
any catastrophic failure.
The hi-tech aspect of the unit is in the "brain" of the 9 x 6 x 3-in. unit. It stores 30 days of operating data to help companies determine the exact condition of the engine. This data can be downloaded to any PC where the software provides numerous filters designed to target problems that could shorten engine life. The goal is to use the data to address mechanical and/or personnel problems while they are still inexpensive.
"Whether it is due to inadequate maintenance or catastrophic events, we see the cost to customers when engines do not meet their anticipated lifespan." says Rick Morrow, Operations Manager at Diesel Specialists, LLC. "The customer who pays the least over time is the one who addresses problems while they're small. Unfortunately, getting accurate information and employee buy-in are sometimes difficult things to do. The 24/7 EZ-WATCH monitoring unit forces the issue."
"Managing the maintenance of your assets from afar is the toughest task in the world," says Kellam. "We know the difficulty in gathering good, concise clear data. Usually all you have is personal accounts. We have seen a radical change in crew attitude when they know their performance is being monitored."
Additional proof of the unit's effectiveness is that other engine repair facilities have taken an interest in the technology. Ralph Kelley of Universal Marine Enterprises in Berwick, La., is encouraging its use among his customer base. "I know of no other technology in this price range that provides the wide range of tools designed specifically to keep operating costs down."