Alex Hughes finds out if improved remote monitoring tools are making redundancy redundant
As technology has advanced, port terminal equipment manufacturers have been able to convince their clients that quay cranes and yard machinery benefit tremendously from the incorporation of varying degrees of redundancy. They do so arguing that if vital parts and components fails, there is always back-up in place to ensure that the particular handling equipment can continue to function.
Other manufacturers have taken a different route entirely, suggesting that only by investing in expensive top-end engineering can they be sure that their gantry crane or pneumatic unloader will not break down when it can least afford to.
The most worrying aspect of either approach is that a premium has to be charged. Redundancy equals duplication of equipment or systems, while opting for top-of-the-range components automatically means higher capital investment.
Yet these two differing approaches may well have had their day.
The dramatic fall in price of technology suggests that a third approach is now possible: remove high levels of redundancy and replace them instead with remote monitoring equipment that has the ability to detect anomalies that suggest a problem is developing.
Such an approach is already becoming commonplace in many industries and, crucially, could bring down equipment prices by taking away redundant redundancy.
CHS Engineering Services Ltd, for example, is currently monitoring the performance of quay cranes at DP World’s London Gateway terminal on the River Thames. Chief operating officer Giles Price notes that this involves fixing one of the company’s mobile-phone sized Foundations Connect Hubs to the crane and connecting that to a power supply. An array of sensors is then attached to this device, which monitors three variables: temperature, vibration and humidity. Using a SIM card embedded within the hub, information is sent directly to the Foundations Connect cloud platform. This is analysed in real time and the results made available live to the client online and via SMS, Email and status dashboards.
In the past, this type of activity was done manually on site, but by turning to using cloud-based technology, CHS can cut costs by up to 40%.
According to Mr Price: “By constantly checking vibration, temperature and humidity, CHS is looking to both spot trends and, crucially, any changes compared to historical data. A drop in temperature, a rise in humidity, or increased vibration, might indicate that components in a machine are failing, or that the ambient conditions around the system are causing problems and that this could have a negative operational impact,” he says.
However, first thresholds have to be set. If these are breached, an alarm is sent to the client. If no action is then taken to bring the variable back into a normal range, a second alarm is sent.
“The technology for doing this type of monitoring existed ten years ago, although was prohibitively priced. Prices have subsequently fallen and now any equipment operator can make a financial case for adopting such monitoring. At CHS, we believe that this will enable any crane operator to generate a return on investment within a year,” says Mr Price.
Both temperature and humidity sensors are now extremely affordable, he adds, while even vibration sensors can no longer be regarded as prohibitively expensive.
“Depending on what is being monitored, we might need just one or two sensors, or eight or nine if it is a more complicated item,” he says.
Asked how customers can save money, he says that CHS monitoring equipment has already prevented major bearing failures. Added to which, comparing current performance against historical data can rapidly identify anomalies.
“If we know how a bearing normally behaves, we can spot, for example, additional vibration building up around it, perhaps suggesting that something is amiss and requires investigation,” he says.
Significantly, CHS can build up a knowledge bank of different types of equipment – perhaps similar bearings provided by a different supplier – and determine which performs best in various quay crane applications. This means the company can help customers plan maintenance strategies and decide when to choose best operational downtime.
“By being able to provide better independent information on performance and reliability of equipment could eventually result in less redundancy having to be built into equipment, since a lot of redundancy is there to cope with unpredicted failures. Through better monitoring, significant capital benefits can accrue while also improving the lifecycle of equipment. So, instead of providing 10%-20% redundancy, manufacturers might feel happier with just 5%,” says Mr Price.
He also stresses that, being an independent provider of monitoring equipment, crane operators know that information on crane performance is secure when passing through the CHS IoT powered system.
“We have no client versus supplier confidentiality issues. There is no conflict of interest,” he stresses.
In respect of how much redundancy cranes need to ensure that they do not often fail in operation, Thomas Jähnig, Liebherr’s marketing manager for maritime cranes, notes that company focus has always been on maintaining high levels of availability, which results in both reduced acquisition cost and mantainance costs. “Redundancy does not increase either availability or safety, since the crane would be heavier and more expensive. Nevertheless, we do incorporate redundancy systems, but this is to bring our cranes in line with current legislation, above all where safety systems are concerned,” he says.
As to how much redundancy adds to the overall cost of units, Mr Jähnig says that this is harder to define, because it very much depends on the system development process. “In terms of additional weight that redundancy adds to the crane, this is also hard to define for exactly the same reasons,” he says.
Rather than incorporate high levels of redundancy, Liebherr has instead developed its own fleet management monitoring system, called LiDAT. As well as being able to position quay cranes, it also helps in operations, monitors fuel consumption and schedules service intervals.
Data is updated several times a day and can be called up in a browser via GPRS or using a data carrier. This allows individual cranes to be located and some assigned either time or movement limitations in respect of use.
According to Mr Jähnig, this helps optimise use of cranes on the quay at all times, especially in respect of scheduled maintenance interventions, which can be better planned to minimise downtime and hence save costs as well as increasing availability of units.
The additional "Teleservice" package offered by Liebherr allows the company’s service staff to login to the controls of cranes from any location and rectify malfunctions or potential faults.
Asked whether existing cranes can be retrofitted with LiDAT, Mr Jähnig says that it can be used on any CAN Bus-equipped Liebherr units, which effectively means any units built within the past two decades. “However, we offer LiDAT as an option and not all customers decide to install it on their machines,” he says.
REMOTE MONITORING FINDS PAIN POINTS
Given that remote monitoring technology is getting better by the day, Port Strategy asked Liebherr's Thomas Jähnig whether this would reduce the need for redundancy since terminals would be able to identify when a part or component is acting strangely and replace it before it fails.
He responded by pointing out that Liebherr's fleet management monitoring system LiDAT is already able to identify possible problems on components before they happen, but forecasting failure is more difficult, because the system tracks real time loading parameters and it is only possible to derive predictions from that data. The main advantage for the customer is that they are able to track current efficiency while cargo is being handled and also optimise potential use, he says. The cost of the GSM/GPS-based LIDU Box monitoring, he adds, is negligible.
If improved remote monitoring means redundancy is reduced, this won’t necessarily lead to either cheaper or lighter cranes, he says, since reduced redundancy will have little impact on overall crane weight. Nor will quay loadings be reduced. “It’s difficult to define how much money an operator can save by increasing remote monitoring of parts and components on a crane, since this depends on many parameters, including exactly how the machine is used,” he says.
However, cost savings accrue because of several factors: reduced downtime, because problems can be located and analysed very fast; reduced downtimes because of prognoses via tracked machine history; and reductions in travel and maintenance cost, since it's possible to clarify possible problems from a distance.
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