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ACEL Group selects The Switch drives for landmark offshore vessel upgrade

Vessel lifecycle management provider ACEL Group of Norway enlisted Finnish power electronics specialist The Switch, a BEMAC Group company, to supply its robust single drives as part of an extensive midlife upgrade of the multipurpose offshore vessel Island Frontier (built 2003). The upgrade prepares the ship for another 20 years of demanding operations amid increasing appetite for retrofits versus newbuilds.

ACEL Group subsidiary Haf Power Solutions (HPS)’s core business is installing and commissioning commercially available technology as part of vessel lifecycle management services for shipowners.

“We have a long relationship with Island Offshore and were tasked with a complete overhaul of the Island Frontier’s electrical systems. It was their founding vessel, but after 20 years of successful operation, the cost of maintaining obsolete electrical systems for another 20 years would have been far too high,” says HPS CEO Bengt-Olav Berntsen.

HPS’s scope encompassed project management, engineering and installation of equipment. This comprised a new power management system (PMS), integrated automation system (IAS), fire and gas (F&G) detection system, emergency shutdown (ESD) system, closed-circuit television (CCTV) system, a new Internet Protocol television (IPTV) entertainment system for the cabins, new engine control room (ECR) consoles and a ballast water management system (BWMS).

Drives dilemma solved

The original intention was not to replace the ship’s existing thruster and propulsion drives but to extend their lifetime by replacing broken cards and other internal components. However, it soon became apparent this would not be in the owner’s long-term interest.

“We could easily have extended their lifetime for another five years, but after that, it would be problematic to carry out effective maintenance and source the necessary parts. So we decided to replace them entirely with new parallel single drives designed for AC distribution and supplied by The Switch,” says Berntsen.

HPS’s philosophy is to design systems in close collaboration with relevant suppliers. “We’ve been working with The Switch for some time, so we know their interfaces and way of working. It was a big plus not having to start from scratch with a different vendor,” Berntsen adds.

Vital fast response

Berntsen says partners who are versatile in terms of engineering, production and logistics are very important to meet delivery deadlines, which in the Island Frontier case was crucial. “With the vessel fast approaching its 10-year special survey, fast response was vital as we needed a swift answer on lead time and cost. Fortunately, Asbjørn Halsebakke, Senior Manager Marine Concepts at The Switch, was able to visit the owner at very short notice to explain why their drives were the optimal solution from a long-term financial perspective.”

HPS also wanted to use the existing drives’ space on board, and The Switch drives have a similar interface and physical dimensions to the old ones. “Their drives are also more adaptable to work with. While we did all the interface engineering, commissioning work and sea trials ourselves, The Switch scaled up their production in time to do the last-mile integration,” Berntsen says.

The work was carried out in Gibraltar, meaning the ship did not have to travel to HPS’s base in Norway. The Island Frontier typically operates off Africa, so doing the work in the owner’s preferred location saved both time in transit and fuel.

Burgeoning retrofit market

HPS aims to further expand in the retrofit market together with The Switch amid a clear trend toward owners investing in modifications and maintenance of existing vessels and installations. “There is a lot to say for this ‘circular economy’ approach versus building brand new ships, and we are well aligned with The Switch on this strategy,” Berntsen says.

The Switch drives are also being installed on another Island Offshore ship, the Island Condor, as part of HPS’s delivery and integration of a new battery package. The platform supply vessel (PSV) is undergoing conversion to an offshore construction vessel (OCV), which involves the ship being cut in half with a new construction module being added in the middle. Hareid Group and Myklebust Shipyard are leading the project.

Berntsen notes The Switch offers a lot more than just drives, including its innovative DC-Hub solutions and super-fast protection devices. HPS has a new initiative underway using The Switch protection technology in the ferry market to enhance the safety of DC systems.

He also flags up that The Switch has not chosen to make its products as cheap as possible by leaving out key functions that HPS might need. “For example, flexible software on the gate driver cards will help us integrate different types of batteries, shore charging systems and DC bus ties between different ship sections. This also applies to offshore vessels, where it’s best to connect two separate DC systems for added safety.”

HPS worked previously with The Switch on the conversion of the Torghatten Nord-owned ferry Malangen from diesel electric to battery electric in 2023, which included a partial DC circuit solution. “We’ve also worked on a fishing trawler for a South American owner, where we completely overhauled the energy system and installed The Switch drives to extend its lifetime and make it profitable in a new market,” Berntsen says.

The trawler will operate in very remote locations requiring equipment that can be serviced either locally or through remote support. “The Switch gate drivers are powered by programmable gain amplifiers (PGA), so all the hardware units are interchangeable. This significantly reduces the likelihood of operational downtime in the event of a component failure,” he adds.

Accelerating cooperation

Berntsen applauds the recent purchase of The Switch by BEMAC of Japan. “As we expand our own operations in the coming years, I hope we can grow together as a strong competitive force. As one of the biggest marine switchboard specialists in Japan, BEMAC’s long-term perspective is exactly what we need as the industry heads toward zero emissions by 2050.”

Electrification, he adds, is vital to use energy more efficiently and reduce losses. “Electricity is by far the best energy conveyor – and batteries, energy conversion and DC systems will become increasingly important marine solutions. DC distribution is also the best way to integrate different power sources in local ship grids. Ironically, all ships used DC up to the 1960s when AC became the norm, so with DC we are going back to the future.”

‘Great partner’

Berntsen praises The Switch not only for their technical competence but also agility. “We can influence the trajectory of projects more easily than working with a bigger organization. Great people, fast response time, good interfaces and remote capability make them a great partner,” he says.

Asbjørn Halsebakke adds: “The cooperation between HPS and The Switch is a perfect example of The Switch values in real life, with a special focus on leading minds and being dynamically different. We are both small companies that have great ideas together and are well aware of the customer intimacy needed to make a change in the world.”

“At The Switch, we look forward to continuing the long and fruitful cooperation between the two companies and are sure that together we will make the seas blue again,” he concludes.
Source: The Switch

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