Dynamic Positioning Takes Control at Sea
Growing reliance on DP technology, a burgeoning global market and the focus on offshore safety means that DP capabilities are no longer optional.
Markets & Trends
The requirement for Dynamic Positioning (DP) capabilities on offshore tonnage is growing in leaps and bounds; directly related to the offshore drilling boom in many parts of the globe. And, says Michael C. Ford, Vice President of Commercial Operations for L-3 Dynamic Positioning and control Systems, “The global market is larger than you would think. For every rig out there, 7 to 8 OSV’s and 2 construction vessels are needed to service that operation. In the next few years, it will involve at least $200 million USD in DP investment.” Ford goes on to say that offshore operations, as a minimum, now demand DP1 capabilities. For anything carrying drilling mud, fuel and supplies, DP class 2 is the minimum standard. And, the rare workboat that does get delivered without DP is usually fitted to make later retrofit an easy proposition.
L-3’s Ford points toward specific markets where huge growth in the need for DP will soon take shape. He adds, “In Brazil, they are looking at 30 rigs alone in the next few years. Multiply that times the necessary number of support vessels, and that translates into a robust market.” According to Ford, L-3 has recently refocused its attention towards servicing the workboat – major boat operators, large drilling contractors, etc. – because of burgeoning needs in that market.
Experience and Corporate Focus
Dynamic Positioning has been around since the 1960’s, starting with Honeywell. Honeywell eventually sold that offshore division to Nautronics in early 1990’s. In essence then, L-3 - which acquired Nautronics in 2006 – has been providing DP equipment for well over 25 years. As one of the more experienced providers in this sophisticated market, it also is one the most progressive in terms of equipment upgrades and attention to detail. Michael Ford told MarineNews in May, “Our main focus is on keeping the user interface as simple as possible.” This he says, keeps operator more engaged, resulting much more efficient and safer operations. Addressing the need to satisfy a wide range and age spread of mariners, he added, “One of the things we have to do is bridge the gap between generations – those more mature mariners who are used to a very hands on approach and with the younger generation who are very much a video game crew.”
In the global offshore industry, the huge reliance in DP in offshore offshore operations because of the efficiency it offers for boat operators is obvious. Ten years ago, every other boat might have DP; now almost nothing gets built now without at least the built-in possibility of refitting later. In the interim, according to L-3, the hardware hasn’t changed a lot. The same cannot be said for the operating software has changed. L-3, for example, just did a complete upgrade of their user interface. The goal, according to Ford, is to provide uniformity across all systems – Radar, charts, DP, etc. – so that the operator gains the level of comfort with all components. Ford explains, “It’s very much an integrated control system. As the vessels get bigger and harder to handle, the DP makes that easier.”
To that end, L-3 Dynamic Positioning & Control Systems recently announced the release of the latest addition to the Navigation Automation Control System (NACOS) Platinum series, adding Dynamic Positioning (DP) to the system’s suite of navigation, automation and control applications. Dynamic Positioning & Control Systems developed the new integrated Dynamic Positioning (DP) system working with two other L-3 Marine & Power Systems companies – Lyngsø Marine and SAM Electronics. The new DP capability complements the NACOS Platinum's proven range of functionality for vessels of all types and sizes and offers unprecedented levels of system usability and scalability.
“We developed the NACOS Platinum DP System according to user-centered design principles, building on the valued feedback from end users and human factors experts, as well as L-3's combined years of marine offshore oil and gas experience,” said Tony Gardiner, general manager of L-3 DP&CS. “The system features combined wide-screen and touch-screen display technology, delivering a smarter user interface that is intuitive, with complete vessel overviews. Overall, this development greatly simplifies operations … enabling the crew to concentrate on operating the ship safely and reliably without any undue distraction or stress.”
L-3 DP&CS’ new NACOS Platinum DP System uses a combination of networked architecture and modular components to support a full range of applications – from small alarm or stand-alone DP system capability to large and complex configurations for positioning, maneuvering, navigation and control of highly advanced vessels. Additionally, system configurations can be easily expanded, upgraded or modified to provide increased functionality for each type of vessel. The versatility of the L-3 NACOS Platinum System is illustrated by integrated multi-functional workstations directly connected to the vessel’s IP network, enabling access to information from any workstation.
The NACOS Platinum product suite is based on identical components that utilize a common network supporting Dynamic Positioning, Radarpilot, ECDISpilot, Trackpilot, Conning Displays, Propulsion Control, Power Management Systems, and the Alarm, Monitoring and Control System. With system reliability of utmost importance, all hardware in the NACOS Platinum product line is based on marine-certified components that can be configured with redundancy and triple voting options for vital DP operations.
Interface and Coordination
According to Michael Ford, the various propulsion systems in common use today come ready to be interfaced with DP control systems. That wasn’t always the case. Today, L-3 DP controls interface with virtually any propulsion system imaginable, and L-3 liaises with manufacturers to ensure that this occurs as smoothly as possible. Among the propulsion technologies that L-3 commonly interface with are Berg, Schottel, Waterjet, Thrustmaster, Voith Schneider and many others. Ford insists, “Almost anything out there can be DP’d. One of our strengths is our flexibility in dealing with different varieties of propulsion systems.”
Training is always an important consideration with the operation of any complex marine equipment. Dynamic Positioning is no exception to the rule. As DP skills and certifications come under increasing scrutiny, coupled with the renewed focus on offshore safety, DP training also finds itself under the hot spotlight. And although there are private certifications in play and IMO and the STCW developers are talking about it, nothing has yet been formalized in terms of a global standard. L3, like other DP players, maintains a robust in-house training presence. L-3’s Ford explains, “Fundamentally, DP is the same on any console, but there are nuances to each operator’s equipment. We operate three schools (Houston, Singapore, and Brazil) and partner with third party schools, as well.” Training, he says, is a key part of their service package.
American Manufactured – Globally Aware
With L-3 components manufactured right here in the United States, we asked Ford if that variable gave L-3 an inroad to the U.S., Jones Act trades. And, while that might be a selling point here in North America, Ford instead pointed to the broader, international markets. “Even a vessel delivered here may find itself eventually trading in any number of markets. We market to a global audience.”
The global need for dynamic positioning is growing. Driving that demand is a rebounding offshore energy sector and a post-Macondo focus on safety. That reality requires robust, easy to use equipment, and the experience to deliver all of that on a global level. In on the ground floor of DP development more than 25 years ago, L-3 today remains among the top tier of firms able to do just that. For hundreds of hulls and the operators that operate them, that’s the good news. www.L-3com.com/MPS
+ Taken from the June 2012 print edition of MarineNews magaine +
Joseph Keefe is Editor of Marine News