proven solutions to minimise vessel downtime

Three simple but effective ways to prevent vessel downtime

Looking for proven solutions to minimise vessel downtime? Here are three common causes and their solutions – and they’re simpler than you’d think.

Machinery downtime is a headache for every vessel operator, and unscheduled downtime is the worst kind of pain. No cruise or ferry company wants angry passengers because of delays, and LNG and offshore operators definitely want to avoid expensive fines from charterers. Luckily there are some simple ways to prevent unscheduled downtime. Could these be the solutions you’re looking for?

Unscheduled downtime. Two words that strike fear into the hearts of vessel owners and operators everywhere. The consequences of downtime vary by segment, and often a vessel will need to operate inefficiently to try to catch up once the issue is solved, increasing the negative effects. The ways to prevent downtime depend on what’s caused the problem. Let’s take a look at three common causes and the solutions that can help.


1. Cause of downtime: An unexpected technical challenge identified by your crew that requires immediate action

Picture the scene: the chief engineer on your LNG carrier is trying to leave port but the engines won’t start. If you can’t get moving quickly you will be liable for hefty financial penalties on top of your loss of earnings, with the additional threat of losing the charter. However you get the issue solved, time is of the essence. Crew costs are rising and you’re not making any money to offset them. Your engineer might be staring at a screen full of alarms as they try to work out why the equipment has stopped. And if you have a less experienced crew or an especially complex issue – for example a sensor problem which causes temperature readings to look normal when they’re not – problems become expensive fast.


The solution: Round-the-clock expert support

Having operational support available around the clock to assist with troubleshooting can help you get your vessel sailing again as quickly as possible. In the case of the LNG carrier, the chief engineer had access to Wärtsilä Expertise Centres. One phone call and a Wärtsilä expert immediately started investigating the case.

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The result: Out of port and back on schedule

The expert gave the chief engineer step-by-step instructions of things to check, such as pressure and temperature levels and fuel quality. In addition, the expert had access to the vessel’s history and real-time data and trends from equipment onboard. Most importantly, the expert had the knowledge to know where to look to find the problem, and the experience to solve it as quickly as possible. The chief engineer and Wärtsilä expert collaborated in real time to resolve the case, the engine was successfully started and the vessel left port and got back on schedule.

Having operational support available around the clock to assist with troubleshooting can help you get your vessel sailing again as quickly as possible.


2. Cause of downtime: An unexpected technical challenge not identified by the crew that could cause downtime, or inefficient asset operation leading to poor performance

Prevention is better than cure so, where possible, it’s best to avoid unscheduled downtime in the first place. Before equipment breaks down there are often small signs that show something isn’t quite right. The problem is that these signs might not be visible to your crew. For example, a slight increase or decrease in temperature or pressure, turbocharger RPMs fluctuating due to faulty bearings, or an increase in exhaust gas temperatures which can be the first indication of poor engine health. These changes aren’t enough to cause an alarm, and no-one onboard would notice a problem, but there is still a way to monitor these signs and fix small issues before they develop into something more severe and take your vessel out of action.


The solution: Predictive maintenance services

Predictive maintenance services like Wärtsilä Expert Insight continuously analyse incoming data from sensors onboard a vessel. Advanced rule-based analytics and a layer of artificial intelligence help to recognise when there’s a potential issue and flag it up to the most important element of the Expert Insight service: Wärtsilä experts. They use their knowledge and experience to concretise the case at hand and alert the customer to any anomalies and provide actionable advice and recommendations. In one case the service picked up that the charge air temperature on board a vessel was too low, meaning the engine wasn’t operating efficiently. Working with the chief engineer onboard, Wärtsilä’s experts helped to solve the problem – a faulty actuator.

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The result: Less downtime and access to greater expertise

With almost 700 marine installations in the field, data from vessels is combined to increase knowledge, helping to catch problems earlier and benefiting everyone involved. Because crew often move between vessels, having a dedicated Wärtsilä expert also means there is always consistency and experience available. Crew also learn more about common issues and how to solve them. Wärtsilä experts are experienced in both engineering and your specific vessel – and support is available around the clock.

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3. Cause of downtime: Fixed scheduled maintenance isn’t meeting your operational requirements

Many vessels are still following maintenance schedules that are based on the operational hours of each piece of equipment. Maintenance stops are chosen when running hours hit predefined levels, whether equipment needs servicing or not. There is some logic to this – obviously you can’t run to failure – but what if you could delay until the equipment actually needs maintenance, while still sailing safely?

It turns out you can.


The solution: Data-driven dynamic maintenance planning

Data-driven dynamic maintenance planning (DDDMP) provides the flexibility to schedule maintenance for when it’s needed rather than according to running hours. If performance data and inspections are all looking good then the time between overhauls can be extended, reducing overall lifecycle costs. Different maintenance activities can often be combined according to dry dock schedules to make the best use of docking time.

Wärtsilä uses Expert Insight as an enabler for DDDMP, tracking real-time data from the vessel while also monitoring the condition of fluids such as lube oil, cooling water and fuel. These ongoing checks are combined with intermediate and open inspections that prove whether it’s safe to postpone maintenance activities. Wärtsilä can either carry out all inspections or crew can be trained to handle intermediate inspections with Wärtsilä carrying out open inspections. This training is also a great way to increase competence on board, which helps when unexpected events occur.

Data-driven dynamic maintenance planning (DDDMP) provides the flexibility to schedule maintenance for when it’s needed rather than according to running hours.


The result: The flexibility to make profitable choices

In some cases DDDMP has allowed operators to take lucrative contracts that would have clashed with previously scheduled maintenance. In these cases Wärtsilä can provide a statement, accepted by classification societies and insurance companies, that shows that maintenance can be safely postponed for a given length of time.

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4. Bonus solution: Reduce downtime with reliable equipment

In addition to support services, it’s important to recognise the significance of reliable equipment when it comes to avoiding unscheduled downtime. Choosing proven equipment from reliable suppliers is essential to maximise availability, ensure safety and avoid blackout risks. Operational disruption can damage a shipping company’s competitiveness, profits and ultimately its reputation. For even greater peace of mind, you can enter an agreement to ensure reliability and availability targets are met with an outcome-based business partnership. These come in many forms, for example an engine room reliability assurance or a duration of overhaul guarantee. What do they all have in common? The power to keep headaches at bay.

Would you like guaranteed vessel uptime? Read about the lifecycle solutions available from Wärtsilä

Written by
Amanda Thurman

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