A New Direction for DP

By Joseph Keefe
Friday, June 28, 2013

GE pioneers a friendlier operating system for mariners.

GE’s Power Conversion business is bringing enhanced operability to the company’s Dynamic Positioning (DP) system. According to GE, the latest version is more energy efficient, better integrated and more mariner friendly. Defining that concept further, Paul English, marine leader of GE Power Conversion, told MarineNews in May, “We are giving ship control back to the mariners.” GE leverages more than 40 years of experience in its effort to reduce the burden of the technology on the operator. It’s a new direction in DP. It’s the mariner’s DP.
GE’s latest DP offering is mariner-focused, enhancing situational awareness and rebalancing attention from system management to true seamanship. This mariner-friendly package of controls and displays acknowledges the unique skill sets of the mariners operating the system, allowing them to re-focus on seamanship and ship handling rather than becoming distracted by DP system management.
Since introduced some 50 years ago, DP systems have become increasingly complex in their configurations and in their operation. Over time, the sophistication and complexity of DP systems has led to DP operators who are more preoccupied with managing the computer rather than on the primary task of controlling the ship. Alluding to this, English explains GE’s new system by saying, “We are giving DP back to the operator. We are taking DP control out of the engineering world and putting it back into the marine world. We are turning it back into a nautical instrument.”
That’s probably music to the ears of veteran marine professionals everywhere who have, over the course of one generation, seen the bridge of the typical workboat morph from the most basic configuration into one that more resembles a space shuttle dashboard.

DP: the GE Way
Dynamic positioning (DP) is a computer-controlled system used to maintain a vessel‘s position and heading by automatically activating propellers and thrusters to counteract the displacing effects of the external environment. Today’s computer control at the heart of a ship’s positioning system also is more sophisticated, but the basic principle of DP remains the same: hold position with a computer system that takes signals from a range of sensors to sense environment, heading, position and attitude and issues commands to thrusters and propellers. Overall, it is a process that needs a high level of system automation so that a single operator can manage the vessel.
GE’s newest version aims to allow the mariner to focus on his real job, controlling the ship, and not be distracted by the task of manipulating and controlling a complex computer system. In a nutshell, the new Dynamic Positioning System from GE Power Conversion puts control back in the hands of the mariner.

Control, Efficiencies & the Environment, too:
Using a new, ergonomically designed human-machine interface (HMI), the control panel is very clean and uncluttered with very few control devices. Its 26-inch touchscreen adjusts to each operator’s preference while also accommodating operators of different heights. Equally visible across a wide range of lighting conditions, the screen displays come in a selectable range of languages that allow the operator to access all system functionality in his/her mother tongue.
GE DP is also designed with an eye towards energy efficiency and sustainability, including a new “Energy-Efficiency” mode. Consistent with its focus on fuel economy, emissions, machinery wear, and machinery maintenance (time/cost), operational costs are reduced and overall system up time/availability may be increased.
For example, when a supply vessel is alongside a rig, high-accuracy positioning is most important. The same supply vessel, standing by at a significant distance off the rig, can employ the Energy-Efficiency mode, resulting in a greater degree of position accuracy tolerance with substantially reduced fuel consumption. In the latter case, fuel savings of 10 percent or more with a corresponding 20 percent reduction in NOx achieved.
GE’s system employs predictive software to anticipate position variation and to limit thrust changes, if the vessel is predicted to remain within the ‘soft’ operating window. If the vessel is predicted to move outside its ‘hard’ operating window the system develops optimum thrust to remain within that window. Advanced algorithms are used to optimize vessel heading to further reduce power consumption and limit thruster/machinery wear and tear. And, the efficiencies created by predicting future activity by optimizing position around the vessel heading – taking into account all variables – could save an individual vessel as much as $300,000 annually in fuel costs.
GE prefers to provide a complete system, rather than individual elements. According to English, “That puts us in a better place to see the broader picture and to optimize all the various elements in it to work together as they should. In essence, we are interfacing yesterday with today.” The new system, delivered as an entire package in the design phase, can produce improvements in total vessel efficiencies of up to 30 percent. It can, of course, be retrofitted onto existing vessels, but efficiency advantages achieved would not be as great. The systems will, at first, be manufactured in the UK. GE took its first orders at the OTC Show in Houston.

New Generation DP: Advantage GE
The new GE DP provides new flexibility for effective maritime operations, an energy-efficient nautical system to reduce operational costs and emissions and a fully integrated system configured for optimum power & propulsion performance. Indeed, it is a class act:
More than one “Class”
Class 1 - In addition to the single DP system an independent back-up joystick system may be required. GE’s joystick can optionally include DP functionality.
Class 2 - No single equipment failure will render the system inoperable. GE can supply Class 2 compliant triple voting systems which exceed the regulatory minimums and provide an even higher level of overall system integrity.
Class 3 - Triple redundancy in terms of equipment provision and vessel configuration. GE’s optional quad DP system solution exceeds the regulatory minimum levels of DP control system equipment redundancy to provide an even higher level of overall system integrity. In effect the system can be seen as a “Class 3 +” which positively impacts overall system availability.
Regulatory Approvals, too: meets all major classification society and regulatory requirements including Det Norske Veritas, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, Bureau Veritas, American Bureau of Shipping, US Coast Guard and International Maritime Organization recommendations.

GE: the Full System Integrator
GE and DP have been used in the same sentence since the 1970’s. In the time that has elapsed since then, they’ve commissioned more than 800 systems, from joystick maneuvering and “simple” DP to multi-redundant DP and Thruster Assisted Mooring Systems (TAMS) on all vessel types and sizes. And because the familiarization period with GE DP equipment is much simpler, mariners can come up to speed much quicker. To that end, system training is available in a wide range of locations, including but not limited to the United States, Brazil, China, and Korea. But, for GE, DP is so much more:
Remote Support: ViSor Connect is GE’s remote diagnostic and support system based on highly secure satellite communications links, enabling GE experts, regardless of their geographical location, to ‘look over the shoulder’ of the DP operator physically at the equipment, advising on fault finding and resolution.
After-Sales Service and Support: a wide range of packages tailored to a single vessel or entire fleets. Delivered world-wide, key benefits include single point of contact, reduced call-out rates, 24/7 support, routine maintenance visits, dry docking support, training, system health checks and spares management.
Obsolescence management: A managed system of upgrade paths for ‘legacy’ systems and allows for replacement of systems from other manufacturers with a minimum of disruption to ship’s infrastructure.

Paul English insists, “At GE, we see the whole ship. That’s because we engineer and supply so much of it, from gas turbines and diesel engines to rotating machines, variable speed drives, drilling systems and automation and control. We power, propel and position the industry. We understand the role of the DP control system relative to the entire vessel’s operations; its integrated role in a network involving power generation and distribution equipment, propulsion and maneuvering machinery, digital controllers, electrical systems and more.”
Today’s GE DP system incorporates yesterday’s lessons, today’s mariners and tomorrow’s technology. That’s a combination that’s hard to beat. Mariners everywhere are probably hoping that their employers think so, too.


(As published in the June 2013 edition of Marine News - www.marinelink.com

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