Flattening the roller-coaster costs of ship maintenance

Hendrix Yap, head of end user sales at ABB Turbocharging Singapore, on the growing importance of data-based maintenance plans.

“Grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The utterance may be familiar to some shipowners, especially when it comes to the onerous task of maintenance planning and budgeting.

Predictive maintenance is one of shipping’s big themes, but accidents and human error may happen, whether in the design, operation or upkeep of ships and the machinery onboard. And while no crystal ball will offer a forecast of precisely when and where maintenance needs might arise, the cost of maintenance can be made more predictable even today.

Too often, the pressures of keeping business running mean that shipowners find themselves squeezed to accept things for the sake of short-term cost savings; sub-par service from under-qualified parties using parts of questionable origin and quality. Just as often, what seems like an effective solution at the moment can turn into the most expensive choice across the lifecycle of the asset. In one recent case we were able to advise a customer against installing non-compatible components. We prevented further damage that would have inevitably shortened the life of the turbochargers and increased maintenance costs. But the many thousands the company spent buying the wrong parts was already lost.

The urge to minimise the impact on cash flow when an unexpected maintenance incident arises is understandable. Vessels need to be put back into operation as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But a longer view can give a different perspective on costs. A bad part badly installed may need replacing many more times over a vessel’s life than genuine parts used the right way.

Engaging in long-term service relationships with trusted partners can help make costs more predictable. No more cost spikes or cash flow concerns when incidents occur. Better financial visibility, with benefits for asset financing as well as greater ease of doing business.

These relationships can take many forms, from the ‘power by the hour’ leasing agreements common in the aviation industry to more conventional fixed-price service contracts. All these concepts shift maintenance responsibility to the OEM to a greater or lesser extent.

Some shipowners are already rebalancing their exposure to unplanned costs. ABB Turbocharging’s Turbo LifecycleCare, for example, is designed specifically to avoid the unpredictable costs outlined above. But it is not always just about cost. Operators also need to be sure that in the event of a breakdown, their ships would be up and running quickly, which is why we can also consider including time limits for fixing any problems.

The past two years have further underlined the benefits of having service agreements in place in times of uncertainty. At times like these ship operators should be focusing on how their businesses will weather the storm, rather than responding to unplanned and unexpected maintenance issues. In parallel, the need for rapid, remote insight is also understood better than ever. The more insight OEMs have into equipment health, the easier it will be for them to share shipowners’ maintenance risk. This approach underpins our latest service concept, ABB Turbo MarineCare, and similar data-based maintenance plans are bound to become standard in our industry.

This is the true impact of data on maintenance today. New insights may eventually enable operators to spot potential faults months ahead, but there will always be unplanned events that necessitate extra maintenance. On the other hand, the technology and the service concepts to make maintenance costs far more predictable are already available today. All that is required is the strength, courage and wisdom to resist the lure of short-term bargains in favour of a longer-term perspective.

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