Innovation and Invention
(Article originally published in May/June 2015 edition.)
Manufacturers find new markets for essential components.
The maritime sector, like everything else, was significantly impacted by the global economic crisis. Investment dried up. Maintenance was deferred. It was as if someone had simply “turned off the tap.” The strategy was clear: Why commit to significant investment when it is, in theory, a cost that can be deferred? However, as many will tell you, this is something of a false economy.
Now, with confidence back, investment in new systems is picking up and the outlook for companies who produce essential components like pumps, valves and compressors has brightened.
U.S.-based W&O Supply is one of the world’s largest suppliers of pipes, valves, fittings, engineered products and automated-valve and data-management systems to the marine and upstream oil and gas industries. Right now it is focusing a great deal of its attention and investment on the LNG business. W&O offers products including double-wall and pre-insulated piping systems for LNG fuel and cargo systems.
It is also the exclusive North American distributor to the marine industry of cryogenic globe, check, ball and butterfly valves from Bestobell Cryogenic Valves of the U.K., a leader in LNG technology.
“The product offerings for LNG applications are all relatively new systems,” explained Matt Hallisey, Engineered Solutions Product Manager for W&O, “so it is not a direct comparison to what we have done before. While we have been a distributor of a wide range of pipes and valves for nearly 40 years, LNG requires a new type of product designed to handle its extremely cold temperature of -162°C.”
What is important to note is that the piping systems, in particular, for LNG are very different from conventional pipe runs on a vessel. The routing and layout are critical, based on the thermal movements present with such drastic temperature fluctuations. According to the company, these products go through pipe stress analysis testing and design programs that enable it to determine the most efficient and safest method of fabrication and installation.
Shipowners and operators are looking at three key options when considering LNG or dual-fuel systems. These are newbuild, retrofit, and cargo vessels such as bunker barges. Specially outfitted bunker barges are needed to fuel the LNG-powered vessels entering the market. They are an important part of the LNG supply chain, and there are many conceptual designs for them in the market.
W&O says the main roadblock for customers when considering the LNG market is the lack of infrastructure. Fuelling stations are slowly being built, but before companies invest in this new fuel option they want to know there will be an adequate support structure and supply. Additionally, low oil prices have brought down the cost of bunkers dramatically and slowed the momentum of LNG infrastructure development.
“In North America,” said Hallisey, “there are currently several LNG/dual-fuel new construction projects, some commissioned and some in the construction phase. But contrary to previous predictions, the LNG conversion market is growing at a slower pace than anticipated. Although there are projects scheduled, it appears that the challenge of converting vessels to gas or dual-fuel systems is greater than originally anticipated.”
W&O is also the exclusive North American marine distributor for Perma-Pipe, the largest North American manufacturer of pre-insulated piping systems. Perma-Pipe offers two products for LNG applications: Fuel-Gard and XTRU-Therm.
Fuel-Gard is an all stainless, double-wall constructed, pre-engineered and pre-fabricated piping system for LNG bunker fuel and gas piping applications. W&O explains that the double-wall design is required, per current regulations for LNG powered ships, for bunker and gas lines within enclosed spaces.
The XTRU-Therm system is designed for fluids from cryogenic temperatures up to 250ºF. It features an extruded HDPE jacket that is said to result in a “completely bonded system” that moves as a single unit for maximum efficiency and service life.
According to Hallisey, the jacket remains flexible at low temperatures and has a higher temperature rating than PVC. The HDPE jacket has been specifically designed to bond to the insulation and is ideal for outer deck applications, which do not require double-wall containment piping.
“Although LNG-fueled vessels are fairly new to the North American market,” Hallisey concluded, “W&O has dedicated resources to this emerging technology and is engaged in conversations with naval architects and owner-operators about new projects. Our distribution agreements with Perma-Pipe and Bestobell Cryogenic Valves will strengthen our ability to support marine LNG projects from design to completion.”
Compressors are another essential component of a ship’s “plumbing” and, unlike industrial compressors, which can wear out, high-quality compressors for marine use are built to last the lifetime of a ship. However, the need to install new systems in ships already in operation does occur from time to time for various reasons, among them more capacity, higher air quality requirements and energy savings.
Systems and products available range from screw compressors, dryers and filters for any compressed air requirement to tailor-made systems and custom engineered compressors for offshore topside installations. According to Marit Holen, Marketing Manager at Oslo-based Tamrotor Marine Compressors, a global leader in compressed air systems for marine and offshore use, investment in this area requires analysis of the entire compressed air system: compressors, after-treatment equipment, and the components that actually use the compressed air produced.
The air coming out of a compressor is not cleaner than the air being sucked into it, and in the engine room the air is filled with humidity and particles that will still be in the air when it comes out of the compressor. Proper air treatment through air dryers and filters provides clean and dry air, which prevents expensive damage to the equipment “operated” by compressed air, something customers often fail to consider.
“The main drivers for new development are related to capacity, environmental requirements and energy costs,” Holen explained. “These drivers keep us on our toes, searching for smarter compressed air solutions. One example is the TMC 400-450 series of compressors that has an unsurpassed capacity versus footprint ratio.”
The TMC 400-450 series has resulted in the company’s increasing its capacity range to 70 m3/min. The system has a footprint of 5.77 m2 with a capacity range from 40.6 m3/min to 69.3 m3/min and pressures from 8 to 13 bar.
The company has also recently introduced custom-engineered compressors for offshore topside installations, which are compliant with all requirements for offshore use. These have a capacity range of 10-55 m3/min and are approved for non-hazardous zone and EX zone 1 and 2 installations.
“Offshore, the drilling takes place in deeper and deeper waters,” Holen stated, “which affects the requirements for compressed air systems. Because these installations need to be more independent of land-based assistance, everything needs to be sturdy and tends to be scaled up. This goes for the compressed air systems as well. Environmental regulations mean that quality, safety and energy usage are in focus, and we need to meet those requirements in our products.”
Elsewhere in the compressor market, Stockholm-based Atlas Copco, which played a key role in the Costa Concordia salvage, recently incorporated its Mark V Elektronikon controller into its marine air system (MAS) units. The Elektronikon controller features monitoring and control capabilities including alarm reporting, trending and connectivity in a color graphic interface.
Jim Donohue, Business Development Manager for Railway and Marine Air Systems in the U.S., explained that the application-based design of many compressors is absolutely necessary because you first have to determine the footprint that the compressor needs to have before you can design it.
“For example,” Donohue stated, “many of our MAS compressors were specifically designed to be no wider than a standard bulkhead door. In our standard industrial installations, sometimes replacing sheetrock is not that difficult, so a customer may opt to knock down part of a wall in order to make room for a new compressor. This is obviously not a common option on a ship, so we design around it to make retrofit easy for the customer.”
By expanding its product portfolio and adopting a new channel strategy in the U.S., the company continues to see strong performance in the Gulf Coast region and is expanding its focus to the Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest. – MarEx
Tim Sheahan is a U.K.-based journalist. This is his first appearance in the magazine.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.