The Lab at Brookes Bell: Supporting the Global Maritime Industry
When a global pandemic engulfed the world two years ago, the task of building a state-of-the-art laboratory to conduct quality checks on vessels would be an uphill struggle.
The Lab, based in the UK, has been up and running for 18 months and is offering state-of-the-art testing facilities for a broad range of industries including the maritime industry. Despite the difficulties of setting up this sophisticated service during a global pandemic, maritime and energy services consultancy Brookes Bell launched the service in January 2021. It offers an independent laboratory facility with advanced testing and inspection facilities, a modern laboratory, engineering workshop space, flexible training facilities and offices.
The Lab provides services across materials testing, fuel testing and analysis, and non-destructive testing across multiple industries.
"Setting up the site was always going to be strenuous with the constant shutdowns, logistical issues, and general unpredictability," said Laboratory Manager Caroline Young.
"A huge milestone was the UKAS accreditation we received in May, endorsing us for technical competence as an independent laboratory service, accredited against the ISO 17025 standard.”
The Lab plans to only further its industry excellence accreditations and the home of forensic investigation has come a long way in such a short period of time. Despite being around for less than two years, clients are already looking to The Lab to support them with various disputes.
"Our new clients can be assured that our services are independent and are fully compliant with the international regulatory standards," Young added.
Keeping a vessel moving and safe without harming the operation of the vessel's machinery from low-quality fuel oil or poorly purified fuel oil is essential for avoiding further upheavals. Fuel issues can lead to grounding, collision, pollution and even wreckage, and resolving fuel-related disputes help maintain high standards.
The testing facility has been pursuing numerous investigations where poor quality fuel has caused serious damage to machinery and vessel infrastructure.
Since the site opened last year, demand for fuel testing services has continued to grow. At The Lab, specialist chemists investigate fuel specification issues and provide extensive data to support fuel-related claims.
The ability to test fuel up to the industry standard of ISO 8217 is therefore essential, and the facility has been introducing more complex investigative analysis methods. These include testing for Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS), Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP), Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIS), and Karl Fischer titration.
Companies are growing concerned with engine and component failures, which often result in complex, time-consuming, and costly disputes. Therefore, accurate and successful resolutions as quickly as possible are being increasingly sought after. The Lab's fuel testing and analysis capabilities provide precisely this, utilizing its team of scientists and experts, as well as state-of-the-art equipment.
Omnipresent Metal Examination
Fuel isn't the only agitation for industry insiders, however. The robustness of the material that composes the majority of a vessel has become a central priority, especially amid the global drive towards sustainably sourced building materials.
Metallurgical investigations are part of The Lab's primary capabilities. This process takes place using digital microscope equipment, a Scanning Electron Microscope, a portable Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), Positive Material Identification (PMI), and the industrial-level Olympus DSX-1000 digital optical microscope.
Materials Scientists identify how a component or structure should react in a specific environment or under a certain mechanical weight. This knowledge facilitates the examination of corrosion or component failures.
Electromagnetic testing and ultrasonic examination techniques are also carried out by The Lab's Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) team for various critical structures and components. The condition of metal structures through composite decks can then be observed, and welding-related defects identified.
Tools like Pulsed Eddy Current Array (PECA) can disclose the condition of metal structures through composite decks, thick lagging, and coatings. No outer material needs to be removed to carry out this form of testing on cruise, superyacht and ro-ro/passenger ships, even if the vessel is in service, at berth, or sea anywhere in the world.
Examination capacity extends beyond PECA. For example, advanced Eddy current array (ECA) probes allow The Lab's teams to examine any welding defects like surface breaking cracks on a range of shapes even if surface conditions are dirty, coated, or abrasive.
The team can then construct accurate digital twins by combining data acquisition, analysis and reporting software, and evaluated inspection data. As a result, corrosion Mapping (CMAP) models can be created for vessels approaching drydock refit, intermediate or special Class survey, saving time and lowering costs by simplifying shipment planning.
Training up industry newcomers
Just as many industries, including the maritime industry, are facing severe skills shortages, The Lab is looking to expand its highly-trained headcount.
In January, The Lab took on board ten new employees in highly specialized roles. In addition, it refurbished its toolbox with new industry-leading equipment and a range of fresh, innovative investigative services.
Five of the new roles are in non-destructive testing. Two are graduate apprenticeships, and another is an engineering apprentice.
Just as the industry faces skills shortages, these newcomers will simultaneously study for their NDT level 3 qualifications and ISO 9712 PCN Level 2 Certification in basic and complex testing methods.
These apprentices will simultaneously study for their NDT level 3 qualifications and ISO 9712 PCN Level 2 Certification in basic and complex testing methods.
A focus on new talent demonstrates foresight from The Lab and a recognition of the much-needed expertise required for any future conflict resolution.
"In just one year, The Lab has enabled us to develop many new and innovative forensic and investigative services," said Ken Kirby, Director of Metallurgy, Inspection, and NDT. "Even with all the restrictions and significant challenges associated with the global pandemic, we've achieved solid growth, expanded the team, and are clearly demonstrating to our clients, stakeholders, and wider industry just what a facility like this can deliver. Looking ahead, the sky really is the limit."
For additional information please visit The Lab online at: https://thelab.brookesbell.com/
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.