Accelerometers are coming in on the tide

Rocketing fuel prices and recent Australian government regulations have posed major problems for local Aussie marine operators, but a positive view towards vibration monitoring in Australian boats means less headaches and more time afloat.

The local market is becoming more competitive, marine vessel owners and managers are being put under pressure to both to protect margins and comply with Australian regulations. Many local marine operators are finding that running and maintaining engines represents a big proportion of overall costs. With rising fuel prices and new emission regulations it seems certain that these costs are going to go up. There are further issues as well; fuel quality has gotten worse over the years, lower sulphur and bio diesel blends has put engines at risk. On the flip side, recent advances in engine design have shown to be effective, meaning that boat engines are now capable of low emissions and better power and performance. Vibration monitoring has recently become the cherry on top though. It has become a key tool used by marine engineers to manage the availability and maintenance of equipment with rotating shafts, including pumps, motors, fans and gearboxes, as well as engine systems. A solid condition monitoring programme provides information and data that removes the need for extensive maintenance.

Marine classification rules dictate the that visual inspections are needed to provide assurances around the physical condition and integrity of each part. This process ensures continued safe operation of ships in service – a major undertaking – especially for operators and engineers that are in charge of larger vessels. This whole process is a challenge; even when plans are carefully drawn up for spare parts to be made available, the inspection process still takes weeks rather than days even in a dry dock. For many vessels, a couple of weeks’ downtime is simply does not work.

The alternative is also rubbish. No operator wants to garner bad publicity by failures, regardless of the vessel being a merchant or cruise ship. If a container ship runs into problems and needs to make an unscheduled docking, the difficulties and potential fines can make an extended period of downtime look positively enticing.

By applying non-invasive vibration analysis to measure factors such as bearing surface condition, along with associated techniques such as ultrasonic inspection to check for potential cracks in the bearings, vibration sensor technology will help keep bearings working 24 hours per day, a vital service for shipping where round-the-clock performance is often a pre-requisite. This explains why, where marine machinery is concerned, especially propulsion and manoeuvring systems, engines and turbochargers, vibration monitoring is becoming a more widely adopted facet of condition monitoring. Alongside other powerful tools such as oil monitoring and thermal imaging, vibration monitoring is protecting profits and enhancing performance.

Industrial sensors and accelerometers for vibration monitoring offered by global market leaders (such as GVS) can operate over a wide temperature range, measuring both high and low frequencies with excellent levels of accuracy. When it comes to the often random tempurature environments presented by life at sea, stainless steel sensor housings help these devices to work for much longer periods without failing by preventing contaminants such as moisture, dust and oil. There are two main categories: AC accelerometers, which are used with a data collector for monitoring the condition of higher value assets such as wind turbines, and 4-20mA accelerometers, which are used with a PLC to measure lower value assets such as fans and pumps. Both are capable of detecting imbalance, bearing condition and misalignment but AC accelerometers can also identify cavitation, looseness, gear defects and belt problems.

In choosing an appropriate accelerometer from the wide range available, engineers need to consider the vibration level and frequency range that is to be measured, as well as the immediate conditions.Certain considerations need to be taken in to account:

  • What is the average temperature
  • Are there any corrosive chemicals present
  • Is the atmosphere combustible
  • Are there weight constraints

Consultation with a market leader such as GVS Reliability Products out of Newcastle Asutralia (who has experience in a wide range of sectors) will swiftly ensure the right decisions are made. We offer AC and 4-20mA versions of the HS-100 and HS-420 Series that are intrinsically safe (being ATEX and IEC Ex certified). These industrial sensors can be used to monitor vibration levels on pumps, motors, fans and all sorts of rotating machinery found in marine applications.

As the technology continues to monitor developing techniques and options, vibration monitoring offers a far more viable option for protecting profits for all ship operators in the marine industries. The need for maintenance also removes the reliability on external contractors and leaves engineers free to focus on more relevant tasks, with greater technology greatly optimising environmental efficiency, avoiding the environmental impact and enabling great advances in profitability to be realised.

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