-- FROM THE FULL PICTURE MAGAZINE --
As Solitaire, the world's biggest pipelay vessel, rushes from job to job, the
ship's technical team must squeeze vital refits into the slimmest of openings. A
recent upgrade of Solitaire's Kongsberg DP and automated vessel management system
tested the flexibility of supplier and customer.
Solitaire, the world's biggest pipelay vessel, recently upgraded DP and automated vessel management systems.
In February 2009, Allseas' Solitaire steamed to the port of Rotterdam for an
express refitting of its DP and automation systems. The timing of this job had changed
numerous times in the preceding months, most recently in January.
"Originally, the refit was planned for 2008. That didn't work out, so we had
moved the job to late 2009. Then we found a window in March-April 2009," said Solitaire's
technical superintendent, Willem Pesman of Allseas.
With one question of timing (when?) answered, Pesman pushed Kongsberg on the
second (how long?). "We presented Allseas with a project schedule, and they responded
'can you do it in half the time with twice as many people?'," said Vegard Ryen Skullerud
In the end, Kongsberg completed the project in roughly seven weeks, according
to the tight schedule, and Pesman lauded the professionalism, flexibility and speed
of Skullerud and the Kongsberg team. "They showed a great ability to respond to
changes, and – once the timing was settled – we all moved very quickly," he said.
Preparatory work, including cable-pulling, took place off of Egypt while the
ship was in operation. Work in the yard took place over seven weeks. As many as
two dozen people on Kongsberg's team lived and worked from the ship. Skullerud,
who spent 53 nights on the ship in Rotterdam, gives much credit to Solitaire's crew.
"The relationship with the crew was like nothing I'd experienced before," he said.
"We worked very closely as a team. This crew puts its honour into the ship; it's
Faster, larger, deeper
Allseas' relationship with Kongsberg has always been tight. Shortly after Allseas
was founded in 1985, it began exploring designs for a DP-controlled pipelay vessel.
A novelty at the time, the logic behind it was simple; in competition with anchored
pipelay barges and platforms, a DP pipelayer could work much faster and more efficiently.
Seeking DP expertise, Allseas turned to Kongsberg, which supplied the world's
first DP pipelay vessel, Lorelay. Since then, Allseas has returned to Kongsberg
for each of its subsequent pipe-layers, including Solitaire, which was completed
in the mid-1990s. This ship has set countless records both for speed and depth of
pipelaying (most recently, at 2775 metres).
Eager to increase the ship's capabilities, Allseas doubled Solitaire's tensioner
capacity in 2005. This, in addition to an elongated stinger, allows Solitaire to
lay heavier pipes in deeper waters. To counter the added weight, extra buoyancy
was added to the ship's aft. The added length and weight adversely impacted workability,
however, as the ship's rearmost thrusters (7 & 8) struggled to maintain Solitaire's
position in extreme currents.
The answer was two additional thrusters in the ship's aft. In 2007, Allseas began
preparations to install the two new thrusters, and it became immediately clear that
the DP system would need modification. "The DP system from the mid-1990s was incapable
of handling so many thrusters. The conclusion was that the DP and automation systems
would need upgrading," said Skullerud.
Allseas decided to fit Solitaire with the K-Chief 700 automation system, K-POS
22 and 12 (class 3) and K-Thrust. The contract was signed in April 2007, engineering
and production lasted until the factory acceptance test in August 2008 and installation
was done in phases from late 2008 to summer 2009.
Sharing a ship and a vision
Sometimes for the sake of expediency, sometimes out of necessity, the teams responsible
for the refit lived onboard Solitaire, which can house a total of 420 people. In
November 2008, a Kongsberg sub-contractor (Servie) pulled up to 20 kilometres of
cable while the ship was operating off of Egypt. This required some additional safety
and security measures, but the time saved was invaluable.
Upon Solitaire's arrival at the Rotterdam shipyard, Kongsberg's team of between
19 and 23 technicians and engineers moved onboard. These teams slowly moved the
ship's operations from the older systems to the newly installed systems, all without
using shore power and with 300 personnel living aboard the ship.
The presence of the ship's crew during the commissioning work was both intentional
and beneficial. "We have a tremendous amount of knowledge onboard the vessel itself
in its crew. There are only three of us in the technical department, who work with
this vessel from shore," said Pesman. "Most of the expertise is on the ship itself.
"We wanted the crew to be onboard during the installation and commissioning process
because it would give them a unique opportunity to learn the systems and gain knowledge."
Skullerud also admired the crew's attitude and knowledge: "The documentation
on this ship is truly flawless. The engineers and electricians know every cable
on the ship, every termination. Usually during a job like this, we do a number of
spot-checks of the I/Os, as insurance. Often, we have to ask crews to do this, and
they comply grudgingly. In this case, though, the crew was pushing us to double-check
everything. You can sense the pride they have in this ship."
Pesman concurred: "It's the biggest vessel in our fleet, which means there's
some prestige in it. It's also a result of the management."
After approximately 7,000 hours of work onboard, Kongsberg's teams wrapped up
their work on 22 April with the completion of the customer acceptance tests. Although
some minor issues remain to be settled (including an adjustment after the two thrusters
are installed later this year), the Solitaire refit can be classified as a success.
"I believe we've gotten value for money, and I appreciate the professionalism
we saw from Kongsberg in completion of the project," said Pesman. "Feedback from
the crew regarding the new systems has been positive. The bridge teams are particularly
excited about the functionality that they have discovered in the newer ship control
The new thrusters will be added later this year. Once they're in place, the vessel
will have improved workability, with thrust in a more effective location.
This will hardly be the final ambitious project for a company that has made a
living of doing what none have done before. Innovation and new technology is central
to Allseas' philosophy. For a technical superintendent like Pesman, who must keep
all the new technology maintained and spare parts in stock, it is surely priceless
to have a flexible partner who delivers on its promises.
Making DP pipe-laying operations possible
The S-Lay style pipelay systems (assembling the pipeline horizontally before
lowering it down to the sea bed) favoured by Allseas enable its ships to install
larger pipe, deeper than conventional J-Lay competitors. Holding the pipeline on
Solitaire are three tensioners, which control the powerful forces on the pipe itself.
The DP system onboard combines the thrust available with the force created by the
pull of the pipeline to keep the vessel in position, and move forward. Accurate
positioning is critical, as too little forward thrust would lead the pipeline to
buckle near the seabed and too much forward thrust burns too much fuel and strains
the tensioners. A tension control master system monitors the tensioners and provides
a single input to the DP system, which responds with the necessary thrust.