Experts say that 2019 will be a year of growth for the global offshore energy industry, a prediction already being proven by the uptick in demand for offshore exploration activities over last year. As the market rebounds, operators will prioritize consolidation and innovation to stay ahead. Those who add innovation to their fleets by way of new, advanced technology have the most to gain. Offshore vessel owner/operators who add marine autonomy to their small-to-medium sized offshore workboats can benefit from increased productivity and predictability, while reducing their overall risk and operational costs as they support many types of offshore projects.
No matter the mission, those in the offshore marine space face unique challenges when it comes to ensuring projects are completed on time, within budget and safely. Whether providing support for offshore construction, offshore oil and gas, offshore wind farm installations, hydrographic and seismic survey operations, offshore spill response, aquaculture, sub-sea cable inspections, or any other number of offshore projects, the risks of being at sea hundreds of miles from land are the same.
The most common challenges for those in the offshore marine industry include:
Productivity fluctuations, due to unpredictable factors such as weather;
High operational costs; and
Risk of human error related to execution of “dangerous, dull and dirty” work.
Operators facing these challenges today now have the option of mitigating risk by installing Sea Machines autonomous marine technology aboard small-to-medium sized offshore workboats. (In the near future, similar technology will be available for larger workboats and Offshore Support Vessels [OSVs]). Read on to learn more.
Extract Higher Productivity
Smaller offshore support boats, such as daughter craft, tugboats, patrol craft and crew boats are ideal candidates for boosting productivity via autonomous marine technology. Autonomous vessels can work longer hours, even in periods of low-light or poor visibility, with greater precision and predictability. Unmanned support vessels can operate in very poor and harsh weather conditions that might otherwise compromise tasks and put mariners at risk.
Broad coverage areas or long transits to an offshore site from a mainland aboard offshore commercial boats can be executed autonomously, using dynamic waypoint following capabilities. Computers housed on autonomous workboats execute pre-programmed routes and can adjust direction in fractions of a second without human intervention to maximize efficiency. If an unexpected object, such as another vessel or a buoy, appears in the autonomous boat’s path, an on-board computer (powered by cameras and other sensors) will detect it far sooner than the human eye can, and re-route safely around it before resuming an efficient mission.
High-bollard pull tugboats towing out loaded barges also benefit from dynamic waypoint following, and can be programmed to operate in collaborative following modes. Such capabilities allow tugboats in complex formations to maintain an exact course and speed from the point of departure to the offshore project site, eliminating fatigue and increasing operational predictability.
For marine operators conducting offshore survey missions or offshore seismic support operations, autonomous-command and remote-control capabilities aboard fleets allow more data to be gathered with fewer resources and less time. Manned mother ships paired with smaller unmanned daughter craft can collect data at all hours of the day and night, as un-crewed workboats don’t require stops for low-light conditions, breaks or shift changes. Many unmanned vessels programmed to operate collaboratively can create force-multiplication that maximizes coverage and reduces the time required to collect data.
These capabilities also hold true for offshore spill response and recovery operations, which also utilize predictable patterns that can be optimized by data-driven paths and dynamic waypoint following. Force multiplication, increased operational time, and reduced costs and risks only add to the advantages.
Drill Down Costs
Because autonomous systems integrate seamlessly with common on-board marine electronics – such as AIS, GPS, radar, cameras and sensors – a single remote operator can monitor the live data feeds of unmanned boats in real-time. This is particularly important in reducing the costs of offshore patrol and security boats monitoring high-value sites, such as energy platforms or wind farms.
In instances where payloads are required, a single operator can deploy or activate on-board equipment from another vessel or an on-shore site. Remotely operated payloads for offshore applications can include ROV and UUV deployment, launch stations, cranes, winches, security equipment, cameras, sensors, communications relays, aerial drones and more.
Pairing manned mother vessels with unmanned daughter craft – ideal for offshore surveillance and monitoring, surveying, seismic operations and spill responses – reduces crew expenses significantly and can increase operational periods due to the reduction in stop-work periods related to shift changes, darkness and weather.
When it comes to offshore marine operations, nothing is more important than safety. Installing autonomous marine technology aboard vessels bolsters mariners with computer vision. Computer vision can process and detect objects sooner than the human eye, even in perfect conditions, and provides a redundant set of eyes for those in the bridge – helping to mitigate fatigue, distraction and poor visibility due to low light or weather.
Dynamic waypoint following further reduces the risks of mariner fatigue and distraction, acting as a modern autopilot that controls variable course and propulsion; as workboats autonomously execute planned paths, with obstacle avoidance enabled as a safety measure. This allows the mariner to focus on higher level tasks and be freed from tedious job of navigation, which is especially demanding in poor sea conditions.
When unmanned surface vessels are deployed, weather is less likely to compromise missions or negatively impact human health. Put simply, sea sickness, injury and dire risks to crews are eliminated.
For offshore jobs in extreme locations, such as in the Arctic, or toxic conditions, such as those that exist during spill incidents, unmanned vessels eliminate the need to expose crews, thus improving overall health and safety. When used in this way, an operator-in-the-loop can program a vessel to collect data or spilled product, deploy payloads and monitor surroundings in real time, all from a safe location.
Accomplish More Offshore, While Reducing Risk and Cost
For operators of small- and medium-sized vessels, such as offshore tugs, patrol boats, spill-response vessels and crew boats, Sea Machines SM series of autonomous-command and remote-control products are available now. Those who take advantage of Sea Machines products will, in most cases, see return on investment realized within a year, thanks to increases in productivity, predictability and efficiency.
There’s no need to build new vessels. The Sea Machines SM300 or SM200 can be added to workboats as a retrofit or as part of new-build specifications, typically requiring only 10 components to install. Most vessels can be outfitted with a Sea Machines system in two days or less. Even for small fleets, the system is surprisingly accessible, thanks to an affordable price point or flexible leasing options.
If you’re ready to increase your fleet’s capability, predictability and productivity, while simultaneously reducing your at-sea risk and operational costs, contact Sea Machines to discuss the options for upgrading your vessels today, using the form below.