Game-changing advances turn the tide on convention

29 May 2019 Reading time calculated text
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Leveraging proven technology and extensive knowledge, MacGregor’s new fibre-rope offshore crane offers enhanced load handling at unrestricted water depths.

Industry change is driven by many factors. Legislation is often the largest push, but second to that is the development of new technologies. Some of these deliver small step-changes; others significantly alter the landscape and change the previous limitations of an industry.

With the low-hanging fruit already picked, the offshore oil and gas industry has, for a number of years now, been pushing to explore the harder-to-reach reserves found in deep and ultra-deep waters.

Overcoming the extreme depth challenge

In addition to remote locations and the logistical demands they entail, load handling at extreme depths comes with a distinct set of challenges. Always looking to progress the industry through improvements in safety and efficiency, MacGregor focused on overcoming one challenge in particular; the limitations that water depth places on conventional steel wire offshore cranes. As well as the load, these cranes must bear the ever-increasing weight of the steel wire as it is paid out, ultimately limiting a crane’s permissible load in relation to depth.

“By using fibre-rope, which is neutrally buoyant in water, a crane is able to use its full lifting capacity on the load, rather than the steel wire, at practically any depth,” says Lene Stray, Sales and Marketing Manager, Load Handling Solutions, MacGregor.

The benefits are enormous; water depth is no longer an issue, but far more significantly for flexibility and cost-efficiency, a smaller crane and vessel can be used for more and larger assignments, enabling its owner to bid and operate on a wider range of contracts.

“Additionally, fibre-rope intrinsically has other advantages. It is substantially lighter, easier to store and significantly less expensive to transport compared to steel wire. When tension in the rope is released you can inspect the strands easily and look into the core, without industrial radiography or ultrasonic testing being required. If sections need to be repaired or replaced, new lengths can be spliced in with ease,” continues Ms Stray.

“With steel ropes, their actual condition is much harder to monitor. Five-yearly class rules require owners to cut off sections and send these  away for testing, whilst annual inspections could see the entire length having to be replaced if there are any signs indicating damage. In addition, steel ropes require continual greasing to protect them from corrosion and ensure smooth handling, which is both expensive and has a negative environmental impact. Fibre-rope eliminates this.”

Integrity of the crane’s fibre-rope is monitored using an advanced monitoring and management system. It uses 3D technology to continuously measure all key parameters, scanning the rope’s surface to check for abrasions and anomalies, monitoring the temperature and cooling automatically with water as necessary. Whilst freshwater is recommended for cooling to protect surrounding areas, seawater can be used as fibre-rope does not corrode.

Built, verified and class-approved

Fibre-rope technology is not new, but its application to offshore cranes is. One may question why it is not prevalent in the industry, given its far-reaching advantages and potential to fundamentally overcome operational limitations? “There are several reasons for this,” explains Ms Stray. “We know that the offshore industry has struggled for the past few years, and the introduction of any new technology, no matter how significant, requires investment and confidence.

“We are so confident in our fibre-rope crane that we built a full-scale version to test and verify it. The first FibreTrac crane was delivered this year and customers have recently been invited to see its remarkable capabilities for themselves. Feedback has been very positive and it is now a commercially ready product, which we expect to see in operation soon."

A cornerstone in the crane’s development was regulatory compliance. “This process was critical, not only to reassure customers that the technology is verified, but also to set a new standard in the industry,” notes Ms Stray.

FibreTrac is fully-certified in compliance with DNVGL-ST-E407 regulations. “We have worked closely with DNV GL, and this comprehensive set of regulations will provide customer confidence in the long-term use of this innovative technology.”

Extending potential even further

FibreTrac’s capabilities are set to go far beyond the operational limits of any conventional, equivalent-sized offshore crane and MacGregor are planning to extend this potential even further.

Every new offshore crane is delivered with advanced connectivity built-in and the majority of cranes in service already have this inherent capability. This is in preparation for another technological step forward; the ability to add intelligence to the maintenance platform.

“High quality, accurate, predictive maintenance is possibly one of the most important elements of service provision,” says Daniel Lundberg, Director Service Business Models, MacGregor Digital and New Business Transformation.

We have pilot programmes trialing these capabilities with a select group of offshore and merchant customers and plan to introduce a working prototype of our predictive service tool, MacGregor OnWatch Scout, during 2019.

“OnWatch Scout enables customers to look into the future today; a predictive tool to ensure that equipment is able to operate more or less continuously,” Mr Lundberg continues. “It detects variations in the behaviour of components and predicts if something might happen. We then have the ability to notify the customer and advise them of the preventative steps that need to be taken to avoid component failure."

Minimising downtime improves revenues

“OnWatch Scout will enhance the fibre-rope crane, just like other MacGregor equipment, by minimising downtime. Each customer that we speak to wants this solution because it ensures increased performance and cost control. Predictive tools, which enable one to understand tomorrow’s events today and help to reduce downtime, ultimately reduce maintenance costs and increase revenue and profitability."

“The foundation for OnWatch Scout is years of operational data derived from MacGregor’s current service tool, OnWatch, which provides operators with a rapid remote support capability once an equipment issue has been detected."

“We have taken the events recorded through OnWatch and learned from the warning signs, applying intelligent machine-learning and algorithms to it,” explains Mr Lundberg. “Currently we are validating this data to ensure that it is applied correctly to actual service events logged with our equipment, and engaging with our service engineers to fully understand these and the steps taken to rectify them. This process is essential for advancing the machine-learning model."

“Our experience with OnWatch has given us a head start and we are going to leverage this and accelerate the commercial availability of a reliable and effective predictive maintenance tool,” he concludes.