Update May 2010

Can you really inspect a vessel’s machinery on a routine visit?

Imagine going onboard a vessel on a typical superintendent visit. In the next two days a shore team will be repairing a damaged hatch coaming caused by grab damage during cargo discharge. During your stay you need to make an assessment of the vessel and you have the relevant assessment forms to fill.

Joining the ship and making an external inspection of the machinery does not go deeply into how the ship is being run. A spreadsheet of rudimentary schedule of upcoming maintenance helps but is it enough? And how much of the machinery is in open display? For instance it is easy to assess ballast tank condition by entering a tank and deck condition by observation. But machinery?

There are of course, log-books and instruments yielding information; but how much of the machinery condition can be assessed by looking at these? Naturally an inspecting superintendent will have a spreadsheet for main overhauls showing when main machinery overhaul is due. But the ship has thousands of smaller items of machinery whose condition affects the management of the ship, its history, its ability to face external audits successfully, and can influence staff performance during operation etc. On the other hand, emails to and from the ship, with information about machinery and spares are hard to assemble and rarely cover any particular machine comprehensively. Calibration forms are useful but there are rarely more than 30 machinery components whose condition is covered by them and even there the condition is not described in full detail.

Therefore there is fundamental need for a collaboration tool where the superintendent and the chief engineer discuss and exchange information about many hundreds of machinery components on a regular basis. This system prepares the Superintendent who is about to inspect a ship by providing him with what he needs to know: what is due for maintenance, what experiences were gained in recent overhauls, what parts are typically used, what the status of spares deliveries is, what special know how is required for a successful overhaul etc. Without such a tool the Superintended on his visit can do very little and the Technical Manager ashore will gain little benefit from the vessel inspection.

However, if the chief engineer does not find the collaboration tool a useful and comprehensive system, all he will use is a spreadsheet to communicate next due overhauls to the office. And that, plus a few calibration sheets is all that the superintendent has to rely on when assessing the condition of a ship. Is this enough?

What is the role of computers in corporate memory?

Potentially great benefit can be gained from interacting with a convenient and useful information system that provides comprehensive information even when it is not expected. Imagine how valuable it is for a chief engineer, familiarising with a new vessel to find out in one go that there is a problem with the main engine manoeuvring system because a particular pneumatic slide valve is slow to change position; that the diesel generator sea water low flow alarm is out of commission; or that the shell and tube oil cooler has pitting on the tube ends and could cause a leak.

Computer software can be programmed to know when to give advice and in doing so it is a far better tool than people, because computers don’t forget. However, one of the prerequisites is that the software is used to a sufficient extent so that it can detect the instance requiring advice. The more computers are involved in the operation of vessels the more they can contribute with just-in-time alerting and advice.

There are two ways of warning people efficiently:

One is to provide the warning at a time when it is highly relevant. Another is to warn them in the context of what they are about to do and while they are focused on the issue.

By organising a company-wide information system properly, it is possible to provide familiarisation and warnings at the correct instance to influence the critical issues to which operators pay attention.

To achieve this, the company must have a computerised information system that combines as many on board and ashore functions as possible in order to provide the user with information at the point of need. It’s no good having stacks of information that the user is not in the habit of referring to because, doing so is outside the user’s series of actions for the task at hand and will be ignored.

How do we assemble corporate memory efficiently?

To efficiently assemble corporate memory and experience, the process of assembly must not be a separate task from the day-to-day duties of company personnel either on board or onshore; it must be a by-product of their work. In any organisation, most situations leading to corporate memory and experience are in some way recorded during some process or instance. The next concern -one of design -is that after capturing the situation, for example the pitting on the tube ends mentioned previously, this information appears where it will matter most; at the time when the diesel generators performance and reliability needs to be assessed.

Why Task Assistant?

The quest to make the system convenient for the chief engineer is at the root of the success of any planned maintenance or purchasing system to be used on board. It follows that its success ashore is based on exactly this as well.

Task orientation means that any functionality in an application, any document, any folder, any content, or, in technical terms, any object, can be located by its relationship to a business function whose identity is totally familiar to the user. It means that all enterprise processes are broken down into tasks, which are identified together with their relevant contexts in relationship to the roles performing them, the users performing the roles and the business units to which the roles belong. This creates a fine-grained network of information flowing across the enterprise from one workflow node to the next, allowing tremendously rich functionality to be navigated with minimal previous training, each user seeing clearly only the relevant parts.

This happens because in Task Assistant, all business objects (documents, data clusters etc.) within the system are related automatically with their exact relevance to any stage in the real world process, so that the system presents users with very precisely what they anticipate as they fulfil their real world needs. This is unlike conventional systems, which rely on users remembering, after long familiarisation, the identifying criteria that differentiate the precise stage of the object they are looking for. For example, finding a purchase order for a specific component of machinery at the exact stage desired, for instance while parts are in transit (so as to confirm that the parts sent will be on board adequate for a proposed downtime opportunity), can be very confusing in a conventional system since there are so many similar instances with which to confuse the desired purchase order. Task Orientation identifies all the fine-grained business uses of any piece of information and distributes them in clear terms to the right roles, in the right sequence and filtered by the appropriate contexts, thus emulating the real world needs for any instance of any piece of information, something that users recognise intuitively.