Which came first, the green chicken or the green egg? And does it really matter?

The environment is no longer the elephant in the room; it’s now inescapable and pervades almost every aspect of our lives. And now that the green spotlight has turned to focus unrelentingly on shipping, pressure is mounting to demonstrate that, as an industry, we are capable of recalibrating to meet environmental obligations.

While everyone is in agreement that we must work collaboratively to identify ways in which to reduce environmental impact, common sense dictates that this must be balanced with satisfying commercial demands; indeed economic viability and demonstrating an increase in profitability will be the key drivers for ensuring environmental success in shipping. Whether operating, owning or managing a ship, the key to achieving this, and successfully navigating today’s turbulent economic seas, is realising efficiencies in every area of your vessel’s operation. Using time, energy and resource without waste and making assets work harder will directly impact the bottom line and therefore must be given priority – let’s be realistic. However, if efficiency were a colour, it would sparkle a vibrant shade of green. Because it stands to reason that if you operate more efficiently, fuel and lube oil consumption is minimised, not only saving money but also improving environmental credentials.

The direct correlation between uptime and revenue is indisputable even when shipping rates are low, and therefore the importance of preventing costly downtime is equally as plain. Increasing operational profitability through preventative maintenance of critical equipment and machinery in order to minimise equipment downtime is hardly a revelation to anyone in the shipping industry. With the spectre of downtime ever present in engineer’s minds, monitoring and alarm systems are the first means of defence in diagnosing problems with the ship. Sending samples off to the laboratory for analysis is an effective means of condition monitoring, if you are graced with the blessing of time – something a modern ship owner / operator does not have.

Thankfully, increasing demand has driven significant advancement in oil analysis over the past few years, both within and outside of the laboratory environment. The condition monitoring market has been influenced by a number of innovations which today allow marine engineers to enjoy the benefits of onboard and lab testing working in unison. More detailed, but potentially delayed sample results from a laboratory supplement the real time information delivered by onsite testing.

There is a clear benefit in knowing what is going on at an exact point in time – not just when the engineer can get to a machine for a routine, scheduled sample and analysis. Onsite kits enable rapid testing and action, and online sensors remove sampling errors, which are often responsible for un-representative samples. Online, of course, refers to sensor technology, which is advancing at a furious pace. Dependable sensors mounted in the oil circuit provide an early warning system designed to monitor remotely and in real time, the bearing and gear wear debris, lubricant moisture content, as well as lubricant health and remaining life.

Effective maintenance translates into obvious cost savings, but this on and offline condition monitoring equipment also helps to optimise lubricant feed rate. Even electronic lubrication systems do not offer an exact science, which often necessitates the application of a safety buffer. As one of the engine’s largest overheads, an average container ship can spend $12 million on cylinder lubrication over the course of its lifetime. Dependent upon trade, load, running hours and other factors, real-time monitoring is a vital tool in optimising cylinder lube oil feed rate and, as a result, improving efficiency, decreasing lubricant costs, avoiding issues related with over and under lubrication, and of course reducing environmental impact. Existing users, including German shipping company, Reederei Hermann Buss GMBH, are reducing cylinder oil consumption by up to 50%, representing annual savings of over $100,000.

The liner is one of the most crucial and costly components of a ship’s engine and monitoring wear not only extends its life but also protects against considerable financial pain, as the average insurance claim for an unexpected liner loss is over $250,000. It also has the potential to provide valuable data that offers insight into related issues.

Today’s challenging economic climate has fuelled the scrutiny of every operational area for potential cost savings – some which involve stripping out costs and others that focus on investment to realise efficiencies and fundamentally improve performance. Focus on the bottom line is unwavering, so return on any investment must be quickly evident and notably pronounced. The impact of successful troubleshooting using condition monitoring tools and technology can equate to millions of dollars in savings, negate the considerable danger posed by engine failure, while also helping to meet environmental responsibilities.

So, happily, we can look at the effects of efficiency through jade-tinted glasses. Those most adept at generating more from less, prolonging the life of assets and eliminating waste are the ones who will not only become leaner, stronger and more profitable, but will also improve their environmental standing within the shipping community.

Ultimately it’s all about perspective. Is being green a by-product of saving money through efficiency? Or is it the other way around? Arguably, it doesn’t really matter where the emphasis is placed, the outcomes are favourable whichever way you look at it.

Martin Lucas, Managing Director, Kittiwake Developments

Seatrade Asia, November 2011