2015_2 Wärtsilä Dynamic positioning master

Wärtsilä Dynamic Positioning, Inc. there from the beginning and leading the way into the future

With the acquisition of the MSI group of companies, Wärtsilä has added dynamic positioning (DP) to its quiver of products. Wärtsilä Dynamic Positioning, Inc. (Wärtsilä DP) brings the latest in DP capabilities to the Wärtsilä group and offers a tighter coupling of systems than ever before.


Where it began

Wärtsilä DP has changed names several times since originating from the Honeywell Offshore Group. Such deep roots reach all the way back to the very first DP systems ever constructed. Working in conjunction with Shell Oil, Wärtsilä DP (as Honeywell) developed the positioning system used for the Cuss 1 in 1961. The original system required manual action to position the thrusters, but the vessel no longer needed moorings tying it to the bottom. Carrying out coring in 11,000ft of water within a watch circle of 600ft was an amazing feat for the time. This was revolutionary for the offshore industry, opening up the opportunity to drill in water deeper than anchoring allowed. Building on the success of the Cuss 1, Shell outfitted its Eureka drillship with automatic controllers for the thrusters. This would come to be known as the first automatic station keeping (ASK) system— a true dynamic positioning system.

Through the years, many notable projects were completed, including the first ASK system for a cable-laying vessel in 1968 for the M/V Naubuc, the first operational ASK system for exploratory drilling on the SEDCO 445 in 1970, the redundant ASK system onboard the Hughes Glomar Explorer from 1970-1972, the first ASK system with integrated power management onboard Discoverer 534 in 1972, the first ASK on a diver support vessel onboard the Arctic Surveyor in 1973 and the first ASK system onboard a semi-submersible for exploratory drilling on the SEDCO 709. Wärtsilä DP has lead the development of dynamic positioning from the beginning.

Product Evolution

The first systems were simple analogue control systems and even used manual controls for the thruster positioning. Computer processors were evolving at the same time and provided expanded options for improving control under DP. The first system used simple control boards, which evolved into the long-standing VME form factor. With the explosion of personal computers through the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, processing power became not only less expensive but smaller. Similarly, the heavy and limited video displays were replaced with more modern cathode ray tube color displays to take advantage of the latest programming graphics. The user interfaces (UI) shifted from simple dots on an oscilloscope to intuitive touchscreens with high definition graphics. Performance improved, but more importantly, so did safety and efficiency. Wärtsilä DP undertook a yearlong development process in 2010 to completely update the user interface. Starting from the basic principles of DP and the most common tasks, we engaged our engineers, DP operators and owners to design a new way to interact with the DP system. Similar to smart phones, which have become constant companions, the UI now pulls the operator in and provides direct feedback. Touching the screen to activate commands gives the operator direct confirmation of the actions and keeps the user’s focus on the screen to view the vessel response. Instead of looking down to push a button and then back up for confirmation, the operator stays engaged with the system. Only the most pertinent data is immediately in front of the operator to prevent information overload and increase the chances for good decision-making. Our innovative bullseye provides immediate and intuitive feedback to the operator regarding the vessel’s position. All of the detailed data is available as required, but it is strategically placed where DP operators expect to find it. This UI redesign has lead the industry and pushed virtually all of our competitors to begin the challenging step to catch up to our lead. Combined with the latest LED displays and reliable computer processors, our systems offer high-end performance for our customers.

Each system uses the same “building blocks” to allow expansion to meet customer requirements. Operator workstations utilize touchscreen LED displays, a marine rated CPU, trackball and a three axis joystick to allow complete system control. The signal processor connects the system to the rest of the ship using analogue and digital I/O for the thruster/engine/generator connections and serial data channels for the reference sensor interfaces. Required reference sensors round out the equipment including DGPS, Relative Range and Bearing systems, hydroacoustic systems, gyrocompasses, wind sensors and motion reference units to provide the DP system with a “view” of the outside world. A typical Class 1 system is shown above (Figure 1) noting the sensors and interfaces. Class designation is based on the redundancy of the system (see Table 1) with higher classes having increased tolerance for failures.

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Fig. 1 - A typical DP Class 1 system.
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Table 1 - DP classes.

Specialist capabilities

Wärtsilä DP has always been at the forefront of developing new technologies. Whether it was a “drillship,” known as the Glomar Explorer, destined to appear in the history books for clandestine operations or evolving multiple modes into “EcoDP,” focused not only on reducing machinery wear but also conserving valuable fuel. As vessels have developed new capabilities, DP systems have been pushed to support those operations. Many times this has resulted in pioneering new control modes and true algorithm development. For example, the Glomar Explorer was built under “Project Azorian” for the specific goal of recovering a sunken Soviet submarine. One of the critical capabilities was the dynamic positioning system, which enabled the vessel to remain in position over the wreck site.

Not all modes carry such historical significance, but they provide real world capabilities that allow for expanded windows of operation in more challenging environments. With the rapid increase in wind turbine technology came a call for offshore wind farms. The very environment that made sites preferable for wind also created challenges for the vessels installing the systems. Utilizing the same creative knowledge that has evolved with the company, Wärtsilä DP developed the successful Jack-up compensation mode. This mode leads the industry for wind farm installation vessels by allowing DP operations in challenging conditions that most DP systems cannot handle, due to the complexity of moving legs and touchdowns. Jack-up vessels are extremely challenging to operate without DP, but with Jack-up compensation mode, difficult conditions often are handled.

Participating in an industry focused on oil and gas means we, too, must be responsible to the environment. While other companies raced ahead with lack-luster “conservation modes” that offered little more than reduced performance, Wärtsilä DP put the resources forward to develop a true, environmentally friendly mode that does not compromise the performance of the system. EcoDP provides reduced wear on the machinery while reducing fuel consumption.

Wärtsilä DP continues to develop new modes, based on customer needs and trends we see in the industry, and to lead the way forward.

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HGO Innovation wind farm installation vessel. Illustration Courtesy of HGO InfraSea Solutions.
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DP Platinum demo console.

Product Future

Just as the consumer electronics market adopts new technology and drives forward, we continually investigate opportunities for improved performance and safety. While the industry is just beginning to talk about remote control or unmanned ships, Wärtsilä DP has been providing wireless controls for years. We pioneered control beyond line of sight and continue to perfect the technology as communication systems increase their bandwidth capability. This stands to evolve even faster as the new satellite arrays come online over the next several years and offer substantially higher bandwidth capability.

We are continually looking at options to bring data to the operator more efficiently and safely. As trends move towards simply larger displays, we have already moved on to heads up displays (HUDs). These may form the wave of the future by putting vital data right on the bridge windows to keep the operator both engaged with the system and looking outside at the real world.

We are already investigating the opportunities for tighter coupling of other ship systems vital to DP. What if each thruster could tell the DP exactly how much thrust it could produce based on the status of its bearings, temperature or other parameters? Combining both intelligence and function integration will lead the way towards smarter vessels that are safer and more environmentally friendly. The DP system is the “brain” of the vessel relying on the “muscles” (thrusters) of the system and the “eyes and ears” (reference sensors) to provide control. The tighter the connection between these systems the better the system can perform.

Market potential

With the industry currently down, there are still opportunities and potential for technology gains. Right now we are investing in improved configuration tools and expanded modes. We are developing the next generation of Class 3 systems for the expanding deepwater market, including drilling, construction, and specialty systems. Though the average age of the deep water drilling fleet is low (~10year), this only comprises a portion of the total drilling fleet. When the shallow water fleet and jackup fleets are considered, the age increases dramatically. Add to this the number of rigs being scrapped due to the economic situation, and the market is ripe for an upturn. In addition, many of the lower producing wells are again being shut down due to the low oil prices. This creates a need for decommissioning vessels, which virtually demands DP for every build. For the wells that are not being shut down, the more marginal wells that can be connected via subsea, the fewer personnel required in the field, thereby saving operators vital funds in a slow market. This again drives demand for construction vessels, capable of working in deeper and deeper water, that demand complex integrated DP systems. Last, the specialty market continues to grow especially in the renewables segment. Wind farms are continuing to grow, and new forms, such as tidal energy, are beginning to emerge. These circumstances are driving a demand for the most capable DP vessels yet to operate in extreme currents as high as 10 knots. Wärtsilä DP already has systems operating at these speeds and higher for custom applications, which positions us well for market growth.

Whether a simple joystick system for an OSV, a custom DP within the integrated bridge system of a yacht or cruise ship or a highly complex integrated Class 3 control system for a next generation drilling rig, Wärtsilä DP can provide a solution to meet the customer’s needs.


Wärtsilä Dynamic Positioning

Press release

More information: michael.ford@wartsila.com

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