Old Ship, New Tricks

As we’ve mentioned before, the Manoa is equipped with an extensive Kongsberg automation system that allows the engine room to be remotely monitored from the engine control room and various other locations throughout the ship. Over the course of the past two weeks, the system has been updated from the Kongsberg K500 system to the Kongsberg K600 system. Four electricians and an additional first engineer have been working to upgrade the system. The job is extremely labor-intensive, as more than two miles of new cables have to be run throughout the engine room in order for the new system to function.

The current system, K500, constantly monitors thousands of sensors throughout the engine room, displaying the data on central computers located in the engine control room, the plan room, the Chief Mate’s office, and the navigation bridge. The system keeps track of engine exhaust temperatures, shaft RPM, fuel inlet pressures, temperatures, viscosities, cooling water temperatures, fuel tank levels, bilge levels, and a variety of other data. This data is then displayed on interactive schematics on each computer. Additionally, the data is recorded over time and the ship’s engineers can then view trends in the data, to determine problems such as rapid declines in tank levels or sudden spikes in pressure. If a pressure, temperature, or tank level gets too high or too low, based on preset limits, an alarm is triggered that alerts the engineers. This allows the engine room to go unmanned at night. The system can also be used to monitor the ship’s electrical grid, connect or disconnect from shore power, and start or stop generators.

One of the computer displays in the Engine Control Room
One of the computer displays in the Engine Control Room

The new system, K600, will maintain all of the functionality of K500 while greatly expanding the automation capabilities of the engine room. The new system will display information about all electric motors in the engine room and, more importantly, allow the engineers to remotely start and stop these motors. Electric motors in the engine room control various pumps, compressors, motor-operated valves, and other pieces of machinery vital to the everyday operation of the ship. Once the K600 system is in place, engineers will be able to remotely start and stop pumps, open and close valves, and monitor the performance of motors throughout the engine room from the control stations throughout the ship.

Another important function that the new system will have is engine performance monitoring. Currently, in order to obtain the firing pressures of each cylinder, engineers have to use either a mechanical device called a Kiene gauge or an electronic device called a PreMet. These processes are extremely laborious and time consuming, as in each case the firing pressure of each cylinder has to be measured individually. Hannah and I know first-hand the difficulties of gaining pressure readings in this way, as it has been one of our daily tasks in the engine room for the past month. The measuring devices are subjected to extreme pressures (over 90 bar, or nearly 1300 psi) and, as a result, often malfunction. This past week, permanent pressure sensors were installed on each cylinder that will take these readings automatically and report them to the central computer. A position indicator around the crankshaft allows the system to generate curves of cylinder pressure versus piston position. The Chief Engineer will then be able to use these curves to adjust fuel injection timing to optimize engine performance and efficiency. Cylinder pressures are also used to determine the maximum speed of the engine.

By the time Hannah and I get off ship in two weeks, the new system should be in place. We are very excited to see it in operation.

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