9 August, 2022

Experience is key

18 August, 2016

Strong historical knowledge of marine hydraulics is today proving to be a treasured asset in the ship maintenance, service and repair market. Birkenhead based V&A Hydraulics managing director, Vic Seddon, explains how long-term experience and expertise is indispensable in a sector where the global vessel fleet dates between 15 and 30 years’ old.

The maritime ship repair sector relies heavily on sound, trustworthy, reliable and competent subcontractors. V&A frequently comes across hydraulic and pneumatic equipment which people cannot identify. This is due to the fact that a large volume of older hydraulics equipment is no longer in production. Part identification can be a complex and convoluted process, and historical knowledge of component parts cannot be bought or found on the internet. With the average age of the global vessel fleet between 15 and 30 years old, there is a high demand for engineers who have knowledge of parts dating back to this time.

It’s important to explain the complexity of our role. For example, you may come across a piece of hydraulics equipment which is around 30 years old and in need of replacing. The firm which made that component may have been bought out by a second business, which in turn was bought out before forming a merger. The additional challenge is being able to match an encyclopaedic knowledge with high level technical skill.

Important role of hydraulics

Within the maritime sector, and specifically on ships, hydraulics are used in a multitude of areas and play an important role with functions including winches and cranes on deck, while inside it will operate steering gear, stabilisers, watertight doors and ballast. In docks it will operate locks and swing bridges and the sewage industry uses it for driving pumps.

Hydraulic mechanisms may be abundant on-board vessels but this does not mean they are always easily accessible. One of the greatest challenges faced by marine hydraulic engineers involves navigating claustrophobic vessel infrastructure and adapting to new and unique environments. The large variety of vessels present unique challenges in themselves from cruise liners, ferries and cargo vessels to seismic survey ships, naval vessels, offshore support vessels and ore-bulk-oil carriers.

On a ship you have to take pipes through bulkheads and decks, with no pipe running straight for more than three or four metres at the most. In comparison, a pipe in a factory environment can run straight for 30 metres. So the challenges in a marine environment can be entirely separate to that of a land industrial project. Not only must marine hydraulic engineers be adaptable and flexible, they must be able to problem solve and find solutions to problems not encountered before.

Continuous stress

The other aspect is that once at sea, a ship runs its systems 24/7. This makes a huge difference to reliability as the systems are under far more continuous stress and you have to understand the effects. Needless to say the often harsh and unforgiving conditions of the open ocean take additional toil on marine fittings and fixtures. The effective management of vessel repair and maintenance takes a great deal of experience to understand. The only comparable 24 hour-running environment to marine, from a marine hydraulics perspective, is paper mills.

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