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Downtime is Deadtime: Reliability In The Commercial Marine Market

A commercial marine operator will put many hours on his generator set, often at high average load factors. In addition to regulatory, environmental and safety concerns, a commercial generator must work exceptionally well, and be easy to service and maintain.


Down time can be crippling for the tug operator. A hiccup in any system, especially a critical system like power generation, can be financially devastating. Increasingly, the savvy commercial operator is seeing his generator set as a capital investment, rather than a commodity. An inexpensive generator that requires frequent service is no bargain in the long run.


Many operators are specifying more robust products than the previous generation’s offerings.

Up until a few years it had been common to find AC power production on inland tugs provided by independent packagers, who would take inexpensive engines and generator ends, meld them together and sell at low prices. The engines and gen ends were frequently not properly matched or assembled, leading to inefficient and unreliable performance. Where they were present, base frames were an afterthought and the package showed the lack of quality. Break downs, rebuilds and replacements were frequent, and quickly ate up any savings in purchase price.


A reputable generator set manufacturer considers all factors of operation over the life cycle of the unit. Chief among the primary requirements for a quality generator set are the basic marinized components. Are the expansion tank and the exhaust manifold cast or welded? A poorly welded tank can spring leaks in high pressure situations. Better designs use a minimum of belts and hoses – if it isn’t there, it can’t break. Closed crankcase venting keeps oil vapor inside the engine, while an open style creates a messy, potentially unsafe engine room.


The AC generator end has a list of requirements that are just as critical to performance as the base engine. High quality NEMA Class H insulation should be used. An automatic voltage regulator should be installed to ensure stable AC power quality. A conservative heat rise rating will prevent the generator end from overheating and failing.


Another aspect that has a direct effect on on-board comfort and ease of use is the generator control. A wide variety of meters and gauges and instrumentation are available giving the operator a real-time assessment of his AC power generator. With the advent of data-bus technology, information is easily transmitted on the alarm monitoring system.


Safety warnings and shutdowns should be standard for any serious workboat operator. The modern electronic engine provides a much more complete set of data and error codes than the mechanical diesel sets of old. Modern gensets can help you determine what is wrong before a failure occurs.


Interested in learning more about state of the art marine power technology?  Contact Northern Lights Gulf at (504) 360-2180 or visit our web site at www.northern-lights.com.

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