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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Previous projects > Transport > Hull monitoring improves ship safety
Graphic element Hull monitoring improves ship safety
Building on existing technologies, the SHIP project led to an advanced method of monitoring hull stresses on tankers and bulk carriers. The research results were quickly exploited by the prime contractor, British Maritime Technology, in the development of SMART (Stress Monitoring And Recording Technology), one of the world's best-selling hull monitoring systems. With more than 80 SMART systems now in use, SHIP has played a major role in improved maritime safety, helping to save the lives of ship's crews and protecting the environment from oil spillages and other potentially hazardous cargo.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, newspapers all too frequently carried headline stories regarding the loss of tankers and bulk carriers. While oil spills, with their disastrous impact on the environment, earned the most column inches, the tragedy of other incidents was no less severe to those involved - particularly the families of crewmen who lost their lives. One of the main reasons cited for losses was poor structural integrity of the ships' hulls, a problem exacerbated by the lack of suitable monitoring devices. British Maritime Technology (BMT), one of the UK's leading suppliers of specialist maritime software and consultancy services, therefore decided to address this problem by developing an automatic system that would assess real-time operational stresses on a vessel's hull. Providing the bridge crew with such information enables them to handle the vessel in the most appropriate manner, resulting in fewer incidents of hull damage and fewer total losses. The system can also be used off-line to help plan maintenance and inspection regimes.

Appropriate expertise

One of the most vital requirements for the success of a project of this nature is to assemble a consortium of partners with complementary expertise. Apart from its project management skills, BMT was able to supply most of the necessary instrumentation for the proposed system and also the required computing skills.
The clear need for a vessel on which to test the system was answered by the involvement of British Steel. As one of the largest bulk shipping companies in the world, British Steel was extremely interested in the potential of this project not only from the safety aspect, but also because it offered savings in terms of repairs to damaged hulls. Early detection of stress effects enable both maintenance and inspection procedures to be optimised. The company therefore made the MV British Steel available to the project as a test bed.
The potential application of the system to inspection brought Bureau Veritas, the French classification society, into the project. Apart from bringing a classification viewpoint to the project, the organisation was also heavily involved in the structural analysis work.
The fourth partner was the Danish company, Kelvin Hughes, which has a worldwide reputation for naval and maritime navigational radar and ship navigational systems. Kelvin Hughes was keen to market the monitoring system as an optional feature in its integrated bridge systems. The company was also interested in investigating the potential use of radar backscatter in predicting the wave loading on a ship's hull, but unfortunately this particular line of research did not prove fruitful.
Partial funding for the three-year project was obtained through the EU's BRITE-EURAM project, with the remainder being funded by the partners.

Building on existing technology

In order to develop a commercial system as quickly as possible, the partners decided to base the development on existing technology. The aim was to develop two systems: one for real-time on-board monitoring and one for shore-based maintenance planning.
The on-board monitoring system used existing strain, temperature and crack detection sensors that were adapted and improved during the project. These sensors were placed at strategic locations on the ship's hull and sent data back to a computer on the ship's bridge, allowing an operator to monitor hull stresses even under altering sea states. Using existing finite element analysis and prediction methodologies as a basis, on-line monitoring and stress detection capabilities were significantly improved and new tools were developed to predict hull damage. The team also investigated the impact of different loading regimes on hull stresses to optimise the positioning of cargo in terms of vessel safety both during loading and in transit.

A SMART business plan

All the partners were keen to see the results exploited as quickly as possible in order to improve the safety of commercial vessels. BMT began the project with a clear business plan in mind and was thereby able to begin exploiting the project's results before the three years had run their course, both in terms of its consultancy services and in the development of other new products. In particular the findings were used in the development of SMART. To date more than 80 SMART systems have been sold worldwide, including to British Steel, making it one of the leading systems on the market. By improving ship safety, SMART plays a major role in protecting the environment from potentially catastrophic cargo spills and in safeguarding the lives of those who work on-board cargo vessels.

Cordis RCN: 22509
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