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Drive Transparency

From the Bridge to the Engine Room


Whether it’s a luxury yacht, a cruiser or a specialty ship – diesel-electric drive systems provide great benefits wherever electrical energy consumption is high. This is one of the core competencies of SAM Electronics. The company specializes in marine electrical and electronic systems. In designing innovative drive solutions, the Hamburg-based company relies on the flexibility and reliability of WAGO’s I/O system.

SAM Electronics, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications, is among the worldwide leaders in marine electrical and electronic systems worldwide. For more than 100 years, the company has developed products and systems for both shipping and naval applications. With more than 600 employees at its headquarters in Hamburg, Germany and nearly 1,400 staff worldwide, SAM Electronics offers innovative and customer-oriented solutions. These include energy production and distribution, ship communication and navigation, maritime automation, safety and monitoring systems, as well as consumer and drive technology. The company’s service portfolio runs the gamut from smaller packages on up to integrated systems and turnkey solutions, including planning, engineering, production, and on-board installations.

Using Data to Enhance Reliability

Diesel-electric drives offer great advantages – particularly for cruise ships, yachts, and specialty ships. The drives run quietly, with minimal vibration, and can be incorporated as redundant systems to provide exceptional reliability, yet they also offer maximum maneuverability and a high level of automation. In order to prevent faults and operating errors, it is crucial to monitor and control all functions and key parameters. Therefore, a variety of on-board, process-related data must be collected from decentralized nodes. For example: what are the capacities for the different propeller and thruster engines? How many operating hours can they run? Are the engine shafts sufficiently lubricated? How do the temperatures for the transformers and cooling fluids relate to each other? Answering such questions enables streamlining of the drive, while still increasing system reliability.

In order to provide absolute reliability, SAM Electronics employs a redundant diesel-electric drive solution. Conventional mechanical diesel systems usually operate with diesel engines directly coupled to a specific propeller; diesel-electric drives, on the other hand, benefit from diesel engines that can power any propeller. The engines drive generators, which feed electrical power to a common busbar that supplies the electrical drives and all other consumers. Therefore, the availability of a drive is independent of the availability of an individual diesel engine. This advantage provides a ship with maximum maneuverability – even in extreme weather or environmental conditions. At the same time, only as many diesel engines are connected to the on-board power supply as are required by the current energy demand. This economizes diesel engine operation, while enabling the engines to operate at peak efficiency. This solution is used for a wide variety of engine sizes ranging from 1 to 21 MW.

Each drive is usually equipped with its own frequency inverter, often with corresponding transformers, and operates independently. Therefore, data exchange between these units and the central unit becomes all the more important.

Relying on Uniform Standards

SAM Electronics relies on the WAGO-I/O-SYSTEM 750 to collect all relevant data from the drive system and to remotely control the system from the Engine Control Room (ECR) or from the bridge. With this system, SAM Electronics can configure each node to meet individual requirements. The system offers modules for various potentials and analog signal forms. The 1-, 2-, 4-, 8- and 16-channel digital input/output modules can be combined as needed, providing a high degree of granularity and flexibility. This finely modular design allows for extremely compact sizes. Up to 16 channels can be accommodated in a 12 mm-wide module.

This modular design is also revealed in the fact that the system offers appropriate fieldbus controllers and couplers for all standard protocols. A variety of fieldbus systems is generally used in shipbuilding applications, depending on the level within the ship. While communication is mainly carried out via ETHERNET on the bridge, data from the ECR system is primarily exchanged via MODBUS or CAN. The RS-485 interface is also used in many areas. This diversity has led SAM Electronics to rely on the WAGO-I/O-SYSTEM as a scalable standard component from the engine room right up to the bridge.

“It is a part of our strategy to rely on standardized components wherever possible,” explains Rainer Genilke, Project Manager for Drive Systems at SAM Electronics. “It’s extremely advantageous for us to flexibly tap all important data in the entire drive system using the WAGO-I/O-SYSTEM and a handful of components – and this ability extends across all types of ships and drive capacities. This aspect plays an important role not only in planning and inventory management, but also for the spare parts package that is carried on board.”

Maintaining Flexibility from Ship Design to Launch

Adjustments and changes are often required during the one-to-two year construction phase of a ship. Electrical systems also need to be adapted and extended if another type of onboard system interface or additional components are required. This can be easily implemented using the modular WAGO-I/O-SYSTEM; the only requirement for long-term planning is sufficient space in the control cabinet. Furthermore, Genilke appreciates the fact that distributed units can be easily configured using WAGO’s remote I/O solution. Configuration is performed using the WAGO-I/O-CHECK commissioning tool, which provides a comprehensive evaluation of a system’s wiring and functionality, without necessitating the installation of the system’s control unit. Afterwards, all that remains is the connection of the power supply and fieldbus cables, and the system is ready for operation.

“Our most recent design provides us with insight into all relevant drive systems data via satellites after release by the crew,” explains Genilke. If faults occur while at sea, remote diagnostics can be performed directly from the office to determine whether a service team is required or whether spare parts must be sent to the nearest port. “The WAGO-I/O-SYSTEM convinced us, since it allows us to meet nearly all of our customer requirements for drive technology,” summarizes the drive system expert. “We also value our cooperation with WAGO due to their experience in the marine industry. Like so many WAGO components, the I/O-System has received all major international shipbuilding approvals and is suitable for use on the bridge near the compass. WAGO has even gone above and beyond to successfully certify non-approved components to support us.”

Text: Joerg Schomacker, WAGO
Photo: SAM Electronics, Hauke Hass/