We have exclusive insights from the manufacturers.
This shipyard special edition is about getting to grips with all the technology many of us don’t consider on a day-to-day basis. Travel lifts play a major role in a yacht’s manufacture and delivery – without them how would these massive vessels ever be brought to their owner? Leading on from February’s White Paper on cranes, this month we investigate how travel lifts are progressing, looking at productivity, safety, remote diagnostics and versatility. We will also look to industry experts for advice on where they see the market going next. Prepare for lift-off, as these smooth operators are made up of a lot more tech than initially meets the eye.
However, there is a refreshing amount of realism in the industry. When asked how much travel lifts have really changed in recent years, Franco Ceroici, General Manager of Italian marine equipment Marina Planet, muses that generally travel lifts have remained the same for a while. He did, however, note that there had been some key developments to certain components. “We did some major changes to the steering, lifting and moving technology,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jason Johnson, North American Director of Sales at boat-handling equipment world leader Marine Travel Lift, believes things have progressed greatly. In particular, he emphasises the advancement of productivity, versatility, and safety, which has brought hoisting technology firmly into the twenty-first century.
On a travel lift, great functionality of the transmitter is paramount, as it is this piece of technology which controls all of the lift machinery’s actions. As such, the more load placement information, engine data, and hydraulic performances it receives the better. To cater to this need some manufacturers have taken information supply to the next level and are now utilising wireless data systems to send this information directly to the operator’s transmitter.
Today’s lift operators can also work more effectively, with the integration of dedicated paddle controls for each hoist allowing them to quickly adjust the position of the loads without having to flip extra switches. However, Johnson does point out that although today’s technology is very efficient, it is always good to have a plan B in case something does go wrong. “As good as most wireless systems are today, it’s important to also think about having back-up controls in case the transmitter is lost,” he said. To adhere to this, Johnson explains how Marine Travelift provides an onboard operator’s cab as standard as well as direct-to-valve mechanical machine controls. This means that the critical operating functions of the machine – such as hoisting, driving, and steering – can be directly controlled without electrical assistance if there is any technical fault. Thus, it would appear that like in many sectors although technological developments are embraced, things are not quite at the level where wireless processes can be left to function completely of their own accord.
Though clearly technical advancements have increased productivity, there is a need to keep an element of the human touch. Never is this truer than when considering safety. Indeed, Ceroici argues that although developing technology exists to make the lifting machines function more ‘automatically’ and this will only continue, the machine-led approach may well not be suitable for yachting clients. He said: “More [automation] than what is possible to have today I guess will not be accepted by our customers since they will always want to have the human to control, since we speak about heavy loads and expensive toys.”
Indeed, as the tech advances, it grows more and more important that end-users work closely with their shipyard and machine operators to understand the characteristics of the hoist. Johnson advises users to make sure this step isn’t missed out if they want to ensure the safety of everyone (and every yacht!) involved. “Ask for copies of inspection reports, ask when the last time the machine was professionally serviced,” he said. He continues: “Ask for information about the slings. All slings are required to carry a manufacturing date, ask when the sling(s) were last replaced.” These are all crucial tips that still must be carried out to make sure the lifting operation is as safe as possible. If not used or protected properly slings can be damaged on the very first vessel lift, and there is no technology to get around carrying out these checks. As such, today’s operators should ensure the sling(s) used on their machine are properly specified by the OEM and provide the highest level of capacity. Proper protection on the sling is important too, Johnson advises. No one wants to be the one responsible for damaging millions of pounds worth of superyacht, and especially not on its first delivery.
However, modern remote diagnostics can help to increase safety and decrease technical faults. The reasonably recent ability to troubleshoot a machine from a remote location (such as the manufacturer’s factory) means that with permission from the machine operator, an engineer can log into the machine to check critical hydraulic and engine performances. Marine Travelift has already adopted this technology and it seems likely that others will follow. Johnson said: “Before a technician is sent to the machine site, we now have the ability to arm the technician with real-time information about the machine’s performance.” This information is invaluable for solving issues quicker, fitting to the tight-schedules of their yachting clients.
Travel lifts have also become more versatile, catering to the bespoke nature of superyacht design. Some now have the ability to reposition sling sets horizontally to adapt to a variety of hull configurations. In the past, fitting problems had been solved by simply adding more sling sets onto the machine, but this is often not the best solution. “Keep in mind the ability to hydraulically reposition sling sets or reconfigure the sling position on the spreader bar may make the difference between hauling a yacht and not hauling,” Johnson said. He continued: “Many yachts have sensitive hull components, and [certain] areas of the hull not designed to take loading from a sling set.” Marine Travelift currently claims to provide the greatest amount of hydraulic sling adjustment in the industry. As the protection of the yacht is always critical, and as hull designs change to enhance efficiency, this ability to relocate the sling set is a crucial development to the old system.
The nature of travel lift equipment means that it is stationed at the waterfront, but this poses specific challenges around which power sources are most effective for the machines’ long-term operational dependency. Yet the most efficient power sources are not always friendly to the environment. Manufacturers are waking up to this, with some now considering alternative fuels, however, there is still a long way to go. Johnson explains how Marine Travelift has made some eco-friendly changes, using specialised hydraulic connections and tubing to minimise the chance of contamination to the surrounding environment and offering the ability to utilise bio-degradable fluids. However, if tech could further help these companies make sure their products are sustainable, both in terms of protecting the environment and keeping products in good working order, this would be a welcome development.
Johnson believes that travel lifts will grow smarter, following a wider movement in all technology. (For example, the 2018 CTA Consumer Tech Forecast showed that smart speakers had a 279% growth in sales in 2017.) Specifically, this smart technology will focus on finding ways to provide clients with more information about the machines’ demands and give them helpful information for tracking trends in these demands.
As such, Superyacht Technology News is very positive about the future of boat handling equipment, with much progression already achieved in recent years and plenty more advancement possibilities for the future. The only way is up!
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