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Condition monitoring: A step ahead

Posted 27.03.2017
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by Larry Rumbol, Marine Condition Monitoring Market Development Manager, Parker Kittiwake, first published in Bunker Bulletin, September 2016

Shipowners are facing a variety of unique challenges brought about by increasingly stringent regulations, a tough economic environment and innovations in technology. With so many variables impacting the engine, machinery and equipment, successful operators are benefiting from taking a proactive approach to condition monitoring to ensure that they’re in control of the associated risks that can arise from their compliance efforts.

With the introduction of the global Emissions Control Area (ECA), the sulphur emissions limit will soon be lowered from 3.50% to 0.50%, and shipowners have potentially as little as three and a half years to prepare for this. There has already been a noticeable increase in the uptake of distillates as shipowners look to ensure compliance with current and future regulations. As these become more widespread, the quality of fuel supplied to a vessel is becoming increasingly difficult to predict. Issues such as catalytic (cat) fines remain significant as refineries are increasing the amount of distillates taken from crude oil, leading to more of the cat fines being carried over into the final product. If not identified and reduced by suitable treatment, these highly abrasive particles can cause extensive damage to critical engine components, particularly fuel pumps, injectors, piston rings and liners.

To safeguard against damage, even fuel that conforms to specified industry quality standards needs to be tested to identify the presence of contaminants. The ISO 8217 fuel quality standard was initially implemented to drive improvements in bunker quality and reduce incidents of equipment damage caused by contaminants in fuel oil. Earlier this year the latest draft standard (ISO 8217:2016) was released and circulated for comments from fuel users across the industry. The changes proposed in the new draft could have a significant impact on fuel quality, and therefore on the health of vital equipment and machinery. A key example would be the amends to Clause 8, which - should they take effect - would allow the permitted concentration of harmful particles such as cat fines to rise from 60ppm to 72ppm. And this is despite several leading engine manufacturers recommending the use of fuel with a concentration of no more than 15ppm. These changes, therefore, offer less protection to the fuel user where there are issues with bunker quality.

Machinery damage is an issue that the insurance industry is becoming increasingly vocal about. According to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) it’s the most common cause of global shipping incidents, accounting for 36% of all claims, and the International Union of Marine Insurers (IUMI) says that consistently 40% of hull claims stem from machinery damage, making up 30% of claims costs. These numbers are significant, and this has lead to leading insurers stating that the onus will be on the operator to show evidence of due diligence and adherence to industry best practice. Moreover, it has been suggested that where condition monitoring tools are available they should be employed to give engineers the ability to sidestep known issues.

Currently, it is standard practice to collect representative fuel samples during bunkering and send them to a laboratory for analysis. However, with test results often only available once the ship has set sail, significant damage may already be in progress. This becomes a potential safety risk in adverse weather where any cat fines that may have settled in the tank are churned up by the movement of the ship. This leads to a high concentration of these abrasive particles in the fuel, resulting in an increased likelihood of critical engine failure at a time when the vessel is most reliant on its propulsion and stability for the safety of the vessel and crew.

The replacement cost of a single cylinder liner damaged by cat fines can run up to $65,000 for parts alone, and this can swiftly increase to more than $1m once the associated costs of labour, unplanned downtime are considered, as well as the likely event that multiple cylinders are affected. Simple test kits, such as the Parker Kittiwake Cat Fines test kit, can be used onboard with no additional requirement for crew training. The simple pre-mixed chemical bottle test identifies the presence of cat fines in a representative sample of fuel oil, giving engineers the ability to identify abrasive components in the fuel oil before it enters the system. The Cat Fines Test Kit can be used in conjunction with both laboratory testing and a range of other onboard condition monitoring tools, ensuring that operators have reliable and accurate data ready to safeguard critical machinery against damage.

Proactive condition monitoring allows operators to achieve better control of the risks, affording greater protection against costly and unexpected damage and rejected insurance claims. By understanding the long-term benefits and cost savings that proactive condition monitoring can deliver, operators can reduce inefficiencies that frequently challenge the bottom line, as well as the significant risk of expensive unplanned outages.

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