Time to take stock
The current lull in orders for liquefied
natural gas carriers offers owners and
yards alike the chance to examine the
way ships are designed, built and supported through their operational lives, according to electrical systems supplier ABB Marine.
Few shipbuilding sectors have been hit as hard as LNG during the current recession, where orders have stalled completely for the last 18 months. As well as being afflicted by hard to find finance, the LNG trades have had to absorb a large number of newbuilds over the last five years, at a time when many of the shoreside receiving terminals meant to service them have been delayed.
Nevertheless, with oil reserves running down, demand for LNG will inevitably continue to rise in the long term. Gazprom clearly thinks so. In June, a Gazprom delegation visited Russian shipbuilders in St Petersburg to explore the potential of building LNG carriers domestically. At the time, Alexander Ananenkov, Deputy Chairman of Gazprom Management Committee, said that the Russian gas giant would be in the market for "at least" 23 ships for delivery before 2020. Tenders for a first pair of ships are expected to be prepared before the end of 2009.
Such prospects may be mouth watering for shipbuilders, but they are far removed from firm orders, and ABB Marine, which claims to have risen to the position of market leading electrical propulsion package supplier for LNG carriers since its entrance into the sector in 2005 believes that the current ordering hiatus has clear consequences for the technical and design choices made by shipowners and acceptable to shipyards.
For LNG carriers, ABB typically supplies all High Voltage electrical equipment, from the synchronous generators to the propulsion motors, and all related Medium Voltage switchboards and propulsion control systems.
The impact made by electric propulsion in this market is beyond question. Achieving lower fuel consumption across the whole speed range than competing solutions, electric propulsion also offers reduced installed power because the power plant is utilised both for propulsion and cargo handling, thus producing lower emissions. Again, the variable
speed drives ensure full flexibility in torque, rpm and power output at the propulsion motor.
To date, ABB has supplied or has on order 73 medium voltage system packages for installation on board LNG carriers built in South Korea, Japan, China, France and Spain, with 33 of these ships being with electrical propulsion using high efficiency/low emission four stroke dual fuel engines from W?rtsil? and MAN.
Vessels on order that will feature ABB electrical systems include four ships under construction for Angola/MiNT LNG, two for Brunei LNG, two for GasLog LNG, and a single ship for STX PanOcean.
ABB's role at the heart of innovation in the sector has most recently been witnessed through its supply of five 8MW generators to work in tandem with the first dual fuel engines to be supplied by MAN Diesel, which are being installed on board a 173,600 cu m LNG carrier under construction for Elcano at South Korea's STX Shipbuilding. Where W?rtsil? has tended to favour a combination of two larger vee and two smaller inline engines for its LNG carrier installations to date, MAN Diesel is installing five equally rated inline 51/60DF dual fuel engines on board this ship, each providing 8MW of power at 514rpm. The engine builder says that the all-inline concept maximises flexibility, permitting any engine to be serviced at any given time without affecting the overall performance of the ship.
It will also be ABB Marine electric propulsion systems that will grace the Flex-LNG vessels under construction at Samsung Heavy Industries, which are set to be the world's first floating natural gas liquefaction units.
As a key equipment supplier, then, ABB must satisfy the operating requirements of owners and yards alike..
Increasingly, the company believes, both owners and yards are being persuaded of the benefits of using a single source supplier, delivering system packages, where previously they may have preferred to use a variety of suppliers.
Erik-Christian Bolstad, ABB vice president, sales, Business Unit Marine - LNG & Tankers, Process Automation Division said: "In this market lull, owners are getting the opportunity to give a great deal of thought to the way their ships are designed. At the same time, shipbuilders are constantly trying to find new solutions to improve efficiency so that, while meeting all performance parameters, the cost of constructing and operating these high value ships can be kept to a minimum.
From the owner's perspective, relying on a single supplier to provide electrical systems onboard had clear advantages when it came to through life operations. "Ideally, shipowners do not want to have to deal with four or five suppliers when servicing their electrical systems," said Mr Bolstad. "It is simply more convenient if the supplier of the generators is the same as the supplier of the switchboards, for example."
"A lot can happen over the 40 years that an LNG carrier is in operation: legislation and/or Class rules can change, requiring major changes to the onboard systems; accidents might need to be investigated. In these cases, access to the original system and component documentation can be crucial."
It is the original system supplier, and not the shipyard, which holds the responsibility to ensure that its products can be maintained and adapted to fulfil the 40 year lifespan requirement.
"Owner's want long term worldwide service and support to match the high propulsion
redundancy and standardised, well-proven technology offered by electric systems," said Mr Bolstad.
He said that taking the systems-wide approach meant that ABB's marine service offering could include preventative maintenance planning, planned repair and drydocking, on-call services, commissioning, spare parts management, modernisation and training.
Also critical, and clearly the preserve of the overall systems supplier, was being in a position to offer crew training in an integrated fashion. Here, the ABB Marine Academy, Singapore, offers LNG-relevant courses that include an Electrical Propulsion Overview, a High Voltage Marine Drive Course, a Marine Power Distribution Course, and a High Voltage Safety Course.
These courses are by no means exclusively for LNG carriers, and are applicable to a range of vessels. However, Karen Liow, Business Manager, Customer Training, ABB Industry Pte Ltd, said that the High Voltage Safety Course HV 10, which is a generic course on HV safety awareness, regulations etc, is particularly relevant to crew maintaining dual fuel installations, who may have had no prior experience in the high voltage environment.
The Academy tutored around 100 crew in 2008, with students sent by LNG majors A.P. Moller/Maersk, K-Line and Ceres LNG.
In addition to training ashore, ABB supports the crew in their daily maintenance activities through its electronic maintenance support tool, which coaches them through each maintenance activity using video footage and pictures of actual equipment, Ms Liow said.
As noted, due to the market situation it is ever more imperative that all parties control their own costs. Mr Bolstad said that ABB Marine was keenly aware of this fact, and had been working closely with shipbuilders on finding new solutions that would reduce construction and operating costs, as well as boost operational efficiency.
"We are looking at two major areas: ABB has an internal working group looking at the system design or configuration to see if there is any way we can optimise and or simplify the current solution. One area is to look into using a so-called multi-drive system that would enable us to use the main propulsion drives for other systems on the vessel, like bow thrusters, pumps and/or compressors. Elsewhere, we are looking at possible ways to simplify the main switchboards and reduce the number of transformers by using multi-windings."
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