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.
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
Partial funding for the three-year project was obtained through
the EU's BRITE-EURAM project, with the remainder being funded by
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.