Giving ship control back to seafarers


GEPCPR155a_446166GE´s Power Conversion business (NYSE: GE) has announced it is bringing enhanced operability to the company´s Dynamic Positioning (DP) system to make it more seafarer friendly.

Commenting on the latest version, which is also said to be more energy–efficient and better integrated, Paul English, Marine Leader of GE Power Conversion said: “We are giving ship control back to the mariners.”

Since they were introduced some 50 years ago, DP systems have become increasingly complex in their configurations and in their operation. Sensors have become more sophisticated, there are more of them, and the same level of increased complexity applies to the electrical and propulsion systems.

The computer control at the heart of a ship’s positioning system is also more sophisticated, but the basic principle of DP remains the same: to hold position with a computer system that takes signals from a range of sensors to sense environment, heading, position, and attitude and issues commands to thrusters and propellers. Overall, it is in charge of the complex processes of maintaining a ship on station, a process that needs a high level of system automation so a single operator can manage the vessel.

Mr English said: “As the sophistication and complexity of DP systems has evolved, it has led to the risk that DP operators may have become pre occupied with managing the computer rather than on managing the primary task of controlling the ship, its position, heading and course.

“With GE’s new system, we are giving DP back to the operator. We are now taking DP control out of the engineering world and putting it back into the marine world. We are turning it back into a nautical instrument. In the future, the DP operator will be able to focus on his real job, controlling the ship, and not be distracted by the task of manipulating and controlling a complex computer system.”

GE Power Conversion claims to have achieved this with a new human-machine interface, HMI. The control panel is very clean and uncluttered with very few control devices. Its 26-inch touchscreen is tiltable to suit each operator’s preference for standing or sitting in front of the screen, or moving around it. It accommodates operators of different heights and is equally visible in a whole range of lighting conditions on the bridge, especially reflections from the sun and artificial light. Screen displays in an operator selectable range of languages allow the operator to access all system functionality in his/her mother tongue.

The company says it has also put considerable time and effort into improving the ergonomics of the HMI. It has made use of the great wealth of dedicated professional engineers, designers and human psychologists who study human interaction with machines at the GE Global Research, UX (User Experience) Innovation Lab to produce a HMI display with improved convenience, efficiency and effectiveness and more in accordance with the expectations of a mariner.

The new DP control system also embodies improvements to energy efficiency and sustainability. As part of GE’s ecomagination portfolio, the new DP system supports GE’s commitment to deliver cleaner and more-efficient sources of energy. The system includes a new “Energy Efficiency” mode, that can be used when appropriate such as when a supply vessel is alongside a rig and what the captain wants above all else is high accuracy positioning. But if the same supply vessel is standing by at a significant distance off the rig, GE’s new “Energy Efficiency” mode DP can be engaged resulting in a greater degree of position accuracy tolerance with substantially reduced fuel consumption. Studies have shown that fuel saving may be as much as 10% or more with an associated Nox reduction of as much as 20%, depending on environmental factors and exact operational profile.

With all of its advantages, the new DP control is expected to be more technically and commercially competitive than ever. “This is thanks to the company’s investment in careful engineering choices, and being able to create more with the same,” said Mr English. “What we have done here is change our perspective and take a fresh look at an old problem, and we think our customers will recognise the benefits that this change in approach has produced.”