gplink Evolves to Serve the Entire Market

By Joseph Keefe
Thursday, May 29, 2014

Second generation of Caterpillar’s gpLink will do more and serve a wider market. 

It is no secret that Remote Tracking, Monitoring, and Notification Systems for just about anything that floats, is here. In on the ground floor of all of that, more than 18 months ago, was the organization that provides premier power solutions in the medium- and high-speed segments with outputs from 93 to 16,000 kW in main propulsion and 10 to 7,680 kWe in marine generator sets.
gplink, the satellite/cellular based tracking, monitoring, and notification system was specifically designed just for Cat engines. That’s about to change, however. Beyond the all-important monitoring of diagnostics and operating parameters – with ten basic features coming standard – the system does so much more. Caterpillar Marine Power Systems has so far delivered hundreds of these systems to operators and that number is poised to increase dramatically as CAT continues to change how it does business.
Today, gplink is authorized for use in over thirty other countries across five continents with several in the approval process set to come online in the near future. Surprisingly affordable, the dynamic system works with both cellular (inland) and satellite (offshore) systems and more importantly, operates independently from other communication systems aboard the vessel. Through the utilization of dual band cellular technology with GSM communications, as well as the Iridium satellite system, gplink is able to provide vessel coverage on a global basis. Monitoring both diagnostics and engine parameters, the system typically installs in about 4 hours with an extremely small physical footprint and global service and coverage. A call center is manned by trained Caterpillar Technical experts on a 24/7 basis to provide support to subscribers. These experts can remotely access any fault codes or operating conditions, review a vessel’s alarm status, troubleshoot any engine conditions and potentially eliminate a service technician’s preliminary visit to a vessel.
gplink can provide immediate notification via e-mail, SMS, and/or phone of any critical alarm or event. For those users operating in near coastal or inland waters, an iPhone APP to enhance the service is also here.
Remote monitoring is the new wave for marine equipment in a fast changing global environment. Chad McIntosh, Product Definition Engineer at Caterpillar Marine told MarineNews recently, “Over the years we have seen increasing interest from our customers to find new ways to optimize their fleet operations in order to save on Total Operating Costs including fuel, maintenance costs, and maximizing vessel availability time. With the onboard ship technology improvements, remote monitoring is becoming a more effective way to meet these needs. Additionally, with the advent of increased usage of electronic onboard monitoring equipment, the ability to have a fully connected vessel is becoming increasingly likely.
Caterpillar Marine’s Product Link is the second generation iteration of its successful gpLink engine monitor. Caterpillar Marine currently offers gpLink as a remote monitoring solution, but the firm is currently working on its next generation version. McIntosh adds, “We are planning to take our current offering and use feedback from our customers to make it even better. We are still in process of finalizing the naming and commercial offering structure. Based on our current timeline, we expect to begin phasing in select offerings to our customers for both new and retrofit installations of some existing engines by late 2014. Our vision is not to replace gpLink, but to offer multiple solutions allowing our customers to determine the best fit for their individual application.”

Serving the Entire Community
It’s important to note that the initial monitor solution was primarily a data collector, but the next version will be so much more – covering all kinds of equipment, providing not only data but also technical advice. Actually, the new remote monitoring solution is a part of a larger initiative at Caterpillar. This means that Cat can help meet the remote monitoring needs for more than just its own marine engines. McIntosh says, “Many of our customers are more than just Caterpillar Marine customers and have other CAT engines or equipment. Additionally, it is critical for Caterpillar to respect that most of our customers own and operate mixed fleets. The challenge we see many manufacturers needing to address today is how to manage the data from multiple brands of equipment. We are working hard to address these concerns so that our 2014 product offering in the remote monitoring space is capable of meeting the needs of the entire fleet, not just the Cat powered fleet.”
The original gpLink units were optional with an eye towards someday making the system a standard feature for all CAT engines. In the future, a remote monitoring ‘ready’ feature which would eventually be available on most Cat and MaK marine engines will be available. This same technology will include multiple levels of solution suites. Hence, some engines would come with most or all the equipment needed to connect to gpLink service right at the point of delivery. In some cases, additional equipment may need to be purchased to utilize advance features. But McIntosh insists, “Our vision is that basic engine monitoring is available without cost to every Caterpillar and MaK customer. This will provide basic connectivity and a static view of basic engine parameters. Additional more complete levels will be a subscription service offered via our dealers, with each level including the possibilities for the gpLink monitoring solution are seemingly endless. For example, “Geo-fences” are virtual boarders that are set up by geographic coordinates. Once a GEO-fence is set up you can use them to notify you when an asset enters or leaves that boundary. This can be used to set up boundaries for standard routes, protected zones, or even around your docking location of your vessel. McIntosh adds, “We’ve seen customers use GEO-fences to put checks on vessel operations to ensure that the crew isn’t making unscheduled stops, which could lead to fuel theft and / or other unauthorized activities. We are using GEO-Fencing at Caterpillar as part of the AIS system currently available worldwide to evaluate vessel docking and port frequency, allowing us to better establish market leading service infrastructure for marine. This is all part of ensuring that we can offer the best marine product support available to our valued customers.

CBM, Retrofits, and more …
Today, Cat is even talking about field trials on competitor’s engines. For example, the gpLink system monitors messages over both public J1939 and Caterpillar proprietary communications. Hence, the possibility that their system could be used to pull the public data from competitor’s engines is being explored because it could allow Cat to help provide a complete solution for customers who may not have just Cat engines on their vessel or fleet.
In today’s fast moving marine world, the next step involves “complete ship monitoring” along with remote centers and call-in “Alerts.” And, Cat is already there. McIntosh told MarineNews, “We currently offer a service for our yacht owners called ‘Cat Concierge’ that provides 24/7 call in service. Although Cat Concierge does not require remote monitoring, it has been proven to be a more effective solution when paired with gpLink. We have also launched our new Navigator program, providing similar services to our top Commercial Marine accounts. We understand the challenges facing the market today and have a vision for the future.”
Condition Based Maintenance (CBM), of course, is part of that vision and the future for all successful operators. Caterpillar plans to provide CBM to customers as part of the higher level subscription based services. Caterpillar’s experience with engine performance and development provides the ability to set up analytics to help customers avoid failures through highly sophisticated CBM. Says McIntosh, CBM will be part of our initial remote monitoring offerings and will be expanded over time.”
Finally, and while monitoring solutions are a good bet for newbuild tonnage and repower jobs, the task becomes a bit more tricky when dealing with existing engines and equipment. Addressing that challenge, McIntosh said, “We definitely plan to offer a retrofit kit. There will be some limitations around engine models supported via the Cat hardware, however, we are actively working to find that perfect match of Cat hardware (for Cat and MaK equipment) and third party hardware for non-Cat and MaK, all sending data to the same source, running through the same analytics engines, and reporting via the same customer interface. This technology is incredibly challenging, but also very exciting, and we believe the future of marine operations.” www.marine.cat.com

 

(As published in the May 2014 edition of Marine News - http://magazines.marinelink.com/Magazines/MaritimeNews)

 

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