Perseverance pays off for twin-ship lift, load and lever system
An EU-funded solution for an innovative twin-ship lift, load and lever system has sparked considerable interest from oil platform operators and the oil and gas industry in general. With the design now fully validated, and with international backers on board, construction of the system begins in earnest.
When European engineers first floated the idea of building a special ship loading and lifting solution for tricky operations on the water, it was met with cautious optimism by oil platform operators. But it was unproven and would cost the earth to build from scratch.
But it was the beginning of a new century and change was the order of things to come. A simple, safe and cost-effective on-board loading and lifting system would be needed for transferring very heavy payloads in typically unstable and dangerous conditions between ships, and from ships to structures like oil rigs and wind generators.
When we started in 2000, there were only two crane vessels with a lift capacity above 10 000 tonnes and that limited the design of any new-builds, says Johan Andresen who spearheaded the original EU-funded TML project, which ended in 2003. Our main focus was to develop a simple vessel-based system that could lift heavy loads even in challenging, dynamic offshore environments on the water, without having to develop and use complex ballast and compensation systems.
It was the original EU investment which gave the team the opportunity to explore the lean design principles needed for a state-of-the-art mobile lifting system, called Twin Marine Lifting (TML), that costs less to build, uses less energy to run, and which requires fewer operators and exposes them to fewer dangers.
The fact that the TML system is always in balance and also so very basic in its nature also gives us the very important benefit of having a relatively low capital outlay compared to the lifting capacity of the TML system, adds Andresen who now works for Shandong Twin Marine Ltd, which is a European-based spin-off created thanks to a € 744 million (US$800 million) Chinese investment.
With a major backer on-board, TML is able to build its first unit, but none of that would have been possible without the EU investment.
The EU grant was very important. It was when we developed the brain of the TML solution, and the principles of the TML automation system and how it could be operated, he explains. This is important for early customers who have no fully operational units to see in action.
Armed and (nearly) ready
The TML system consists of two 206 x 42m bare deck ocean-ready vessels, each fitted with between two and five lifting arms, with a typical arrangement being four lift arms per vessel and a third identical vessel used for transportation.
The arms, which are 75m long and can be extended a further 20m, can be positioned and loaded individually, and they are able to lift almost any shaped load. The vessels can handle shallow and deep-water operations and, combined with a crane-lift mode, they can be manoeuvred into place for jacket lifting, bridge installation and removal work, sub-sea installation and removal work, and salvage operations and other structures in harder-to-reach places.
Apart from the compact, versatile design and safety benefits, one of the key selling points of TMLs solution is that it uses around 90 % less energy to operate the lift compared to traditional lifting methods, and that helps to reduce emissions dramatically, says Andresen. It is also an efficient solution for decommissioning and transporting oil platforms, bridges and other ocean structures.
TMLs pared-down system also helps to reduce planning time and related costs during heavy lift projects. The total offshore man-hours for topside removal projects can be cut by around 70 % compared to traditional transfers, called reverse installation, says Andresen.
This also means lower overall development costs on new exploration, in the case of oil and gas operators, which reduces commercial risks but also insurance premiums and other HR-related overheads.
While the savings and operational safety are important, TML is also the best technical solution, according to Andresen. It is designed to install and remove various sized and shaped loads like topsides, jackets and sub-sea structures, he explains.
It is being developed to lift up to 32 000 tonnes, and as much as 1 900 tonnes per hoisting arm (the winch system) or a total of 15 200 tonnes with all arms operating between the twin-vessels, which draw up either side of the structure being built or loaded onto. The ships work in tandem for added stability.
With investment now secured and contracts not far away, the plan is to start steel cutting in Autumn 2017 and to be ready for the market early 2020. At present, there are some 90 engineers working on the final details of the TML vessels.
And in Norway, the developers are busy finessing the lift arm system. All the main equipment will be purchased from European vendors, and all other equipment will have to be arranged and validated through the European operations, notes Andresen.
It is a European success story on a grand scale, and it is testament to fortitude and perseverance.
Andresen says: There were some ups and downs during the course of the nearly 17 years weve been working on this, but it paid off and we learned a valuable lesson with big ground-up projects like TML to never give up!