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Progressive Oil Sensor System for Extended Identification ON-Line

POSSEIDON addresses the development of a sensor-based processing unit to continuously monitor lube oil degradation and contamination in main propulsion and power-generating engines aboard ships.

Tags: Water


The prime mover in the maritime industry is the diesel engine. A single propulsion engine of a modern container ship can cost around $1 million and circulate up to 70 tons of lubricating oil. This critical fluid is subjected to a wide range of contamination factors in addition to its normal, unpredictable service life. Historically, quality control has been performed by a combination of rudimentary field tests conducted by shipboard engineers and laboratory analysis of samples submitted to the supplying oil company. Its long been recognised that the time gap between receiving the results of lab analyses and the questionable security of relying on stressed shipboard staff to perform and interpret oil tests was an area of considerable vulnerability. To date no affordable technology exists to deliver real-time analysis aboard ship. A ship is an isolated community constantly moving around the world in a hostile operating environment. The engine and the ship are at risk when lube oil fails. POSSEIDON intends to remove this vulnerability by delivering technology to provide sensor systems to measure real-time lube oil quality, plus additional benefits for operators and the environment by optimising lubrication oil use and enhanced understanding of the oil and equipment for the crew, operator and OEMs. It will also enable oil suppliers to eliminate wasteful practices.


POSSEIDON addresses the development of a complete sensor-based processing unit that can continuously monitor a ship’s lubricated systems to provide scrutiny over serviceable life enabling crews to predict degradation, anticipate problems and take remedial action before damage and failure occurs. This will extend engine lifetime, avoid loss of performance and could prevent catastrophic failures. There are also environmental benefits as the optimisation of lube oil reduces the quantity of spent lubricant destined for disposal (2 million tons/year). POSSEIDON will monitor the main lube oil properties (viscosity, water-in-oil, base number and total impurities) that indicate degradation and contamination. This will provide more precise understanding of actual engine status and timely scheduling of remedial actions incorporating proactive maintenance towards condition monitoring. These include replenishment for optimising lube oil conditions for engine operation, worn component replacement to suit the vessel’s schedule and surveys based on real conditions as opposed to arbitrary time periods. An important objective will be to reduce/eliminate dependence on land-based analysis and vulnerability to sudden contamination. The unique operating environment aboard a ship provides the challenge of integrating shipboard data management and expert/control systems, including transmission to and from remote locations.

Description of work

The work plan is organised into 12 work packages (WP) starting with a precise definition of user requirements and architecture of the sensor, including electronic and software architecture and prototype specifications.

WP2 assesses the sensor fundamentals by studying actual lube oil and determining the relationship between various parameters and oil quality.

WP3 determines the calibration patterns for the various parameters.

WP4 addresses design and development of the optical IR sensor.

WP5 will determine the measurement principles for the TBN sensor and develop the design and fabrication.

WP6 deals with the development of the viscosity sensor concept and overall design, fabrication, interfacing testing, electronics, software development and data processing. WP7 addresses similar issues for the impurity sensor while WP8 deals with sensor unit integration development. The main tasks/actions of this work package are development of the sensor-processing unit, development of distributed ship/ground communications and the interface for delivering data into the shipboard management system.

WP9 deals with intelligent support software developments such as data fusion, condition-monitoring strategy, integrated troubleshooting and risk management and best practices for human interaction.

The final three work packages cover testing, revision and validation of the technology and the management and exploitation of the project.


The principal deliverable is a demonstrator of the sensor system for monitoring the condition of the main engine in lubricating oil aboard large ships. This sensor system is expected to provide quantitative information regarding the key parameters of lube oil enabling operators to predict and anticipate deterioration conditions. The sensor system will facilitate integration with alarm systems, expert management systems, data management systems and onward communication. The significance of these developments is that it could remove a significant area of vulnerability in an extremely safety-sensitive industry. In addition it would alleviate an overstretched manpower situation and facilitate monitoring and management from a remote location. The successful adoption of the system could optimise the use of lubricating oil and minimise the cost and consequence of disposing with spent oil. In the maritime industry, the logistical patterns of end-users makes disposal, repair costs and interruption in service severely punitive. However, while the facility of remote condition monitoring has major impact for land-based industry, the potential offered to maritime users is enormous. It is expected that this development could have a substantial strategic effect on both vessel operators and lube oil suppliers.