“A fire in the engine room is any seafarer’s worst nightmare,” says Tom Backlund, Wärtsilä’s General Manager Large Bore Engines.
This is especially true when it comes to fuel leakages in vessel engine rooms. This is why the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulation, enforced by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), stipulates a number of minimum safety standards for operations throughout the vessel, including the engine room, with a strict limit for splash guards’ surface temperatures that could ignite liquid and cause fires.
Wärtsilä continuously delivers improvements to its engines and has introduced a variety of new solutions to comply with the hot surface requirements. It has also developed barriers that prevent any fuel leakages from spreading to hot surfaces. Launched in January 2019, the smart fuel hoses is Wärtsilä’s latest fire safety enhancement.
What makes the smart fuel hose so smart?
The Wärtsilä Smart fuel hose is a multi-layered hose based on state-of-the-art rubber material, strengthened by embedded steel wires, with a minimum burst pressure that is five times higher than the nominal fuel pressure of a low-pressure fuel pipe. What makes the new fuel hose so smart is the cutting-edge, leakage detection system fitted in the space between the two hoses. This facilitates the monitoring of the condition of the hose, as well as maintenance management.
“This safety feature makes it possible to identify leaks before they become a problem,” says Backlund. “If the fuel hose breaks, there is another hose on top of it to prevent the fuel from leaking out or spraying, and, in the meantime, an alarm will go off to alert operators to the problem and allow them to fix it.”
What is more, Backlund explains that the smart fuel hose requires no complex installation or significant investments.
“It’s effectively a ‘plug-and-play’ solution that can be installed where the old fuel hose used to be, without any major modifications,” he continues. “Furthermore, this fuel hose delivers a service lifetime that is almost twice as long as the previous equipment – and that’s before you even start taking the considerable safety benefits into account. It really is a no-brainer.”
Thomas Dirix is a Principal Engineer with DNV GL, one of the world’s largest maritime classification societies and one of the driving forces behind the SOLAS initiative. He says Wärtsilä has used its unique position as the interface between engine maker and shipyard supply, to address an issue that is well known in the industry but has often been overlooked.
“Wärtsilä has listened to the industry and created a standard solution, which both contains and detects fuel leakages,” he says.
“As a company, Wärtsilä has consistently demonstrated its willingness to come up with solutions that address what the industry needs. Its new smart fuel hose is one such example, along with its work on other components, either through new designs or retrofit solutions,” continues Dirix, adding that he believes the maritime industry still needs to take further steps to improve safety at sea.
Safety first and foremost
DNV GL is constantly updating its rules to ensure that fire prevention and fire-fighting arrangements are sufficient for the equipment installed. For example, its fire safety rules were recently updated to cover the increased use of non-metallic piping in engine rooms, as a result of the introduction of Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems.
That’s not all. DNV GL recently introduced a new class notation F(M-P) aimed at engine room fire prevention through barrier management. Dirix acknowledges that this class notation sets the bar high and, as such, might be a stretch goal for some sectors, but he says DNV GL hope that it can serve as an important starting point for discussions between ship owners and shipyards on how to design and implement safer engine rooms
“By making products with increased fire safety more readily available, the associated costs will be reduced, and I believe the fire safety standard in the engine room will be raised,” he says.
“The consequences of shipboard fires to life, property and the environment far outweigh the cost associated with increasing the fire safety on board. In many cases, a relatively inexpensive component upgrade or the introduction of a cost-free on board procedure could increase the fire safety considerably,” Dirix concludes.
A product of extensive research and development
Wärtsilä’s research and development work do not end when a product is launched on the market. Instead, the company seeks continuous co-creation with its customers to develop and implement improvements during the entire lifecycle of the product.
“Our engines are in use for up to 40 to 50 years, and it’s our ambition to continue to partner with our customers throughout that lifecycle. We are constantly introducing new safety features and innovations to ensure that our products continue to be the safest, most efficient, state-of-the-art equipment out there,” Backlund says.
The Wärtsilä Smart fuel hose is the result of two years of focused research and development work, during which time Wärtsilä partnered with suppliers, DNV GL and several customers to create the optimal product.
“The smart fuel hose is a co-creation project between Wärtsilä, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, DNV GL and Wärtsilä’s long-term supplier DunlopHiflex part of Alfagomma Group,” continues Backlund. “It was a long journey that required time and resources to test and identify the right materials and structure.”
Once the product was developed it also underwent extensive field tests lasting almost a year, on board a vessel operated by a Norwegian ferry company, before its market launch at the start of this year.
“The smart fuel hose has been created using all the available expertise and knowledge gathered throughout the years to ensure better safety for people on board vessels. It has been tested in harsh conditions, both in the field and in labs, and has been approved by classification societies. It is also a drop-in replacement for the old hose, making installation easy. What could be smarter than that?” asks Backlund.