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Repair and maintenance in challenging environments

Published:  28 October, 2016

Heiko Luckhaupt, marketing manager, Industrial Division at RS Components, looks at repair and maintenance in the challenging environments of marine and offshore.

The marine and offshore industries are facing significant challenges today. Low oil prices along with reduced demand from shipbuilders are impacting investment in new projects. The price of crude oil hit a 13-year-record low in January this year at $26 a barrel, before making a significant recovery by mid-year, but still at relatively low levels. According to industry body Oil and Gas UK, investment in new offshore oil and gas projects is collapsing despite significant cost-cutting efforts, and it is expected that less than £1bn will be spent on new projects this year, compared to a typical £8bn per year over the last five years. The Oil and Gas UK 2016 Activity Survey reports that despite costs dropping due to the industry's drive to improve efficiency, reduce operating costs and increase production, exploration remains at an all-time low with no sign of improvement. The world's biggest oil and gas producers are facing their longest period of investment cuts in decades, and the activities that survive are likely to be those that offer the highest returns on capital.


All these fiscal challenges further increase the importance of efficient repair and maintenance for ships and offshore platforms. There are specific requirements for buyers and maintainers of marine and offshore applications in the industrial sector, for example, working on or for ships, tankers and offshore platforms extracting oil or gas from the ocean bed, or offshore wind farms. Clearly, harsh environmental conditions exist including vibrational forces and high stress, which can lead to serious fatigue or damage. This requires equipment to be more rugged and to be able to withstand high humidity, cold and wind.

Key products used in these industries include those that need levels of critical certification: such as those that require ATEX approval – which concerns equipment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres, especially important for oil and gas platforms; or products that require approval by classification societies such as the Lloyds Register or Bureau Veritas, which establish and maintain technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures. In addition, key product types include those with high IP ratings such as certification to IP66 or IP69K, and others made from materials such as stainless steel that offer corrosion resistance to mitigate harm from seawater.

Risks to safety

In terms of risks to safety, major events in marine and offshore environments have been described as low probability yet with high consequence: events are rare, but can kill or maim workers very quickly due to the unique environmental circumstances. The ferocity of high winds at sea will combine with powerful and violent swells that increase in bad weather, especially in winter. Working in marine and offshore environments provides specific dangers: falls, for example, are not just falls on to hard stable surfaces, but include obviously falls into turbulent and potentially freezing waters where death from drowning or hypothermia is a high likelihood. All this makes protection from spills increasingly important, which can be exacerbated by the constant addition of seawater washing from crashing waves and wind-blown ocean spray on floors and surfaces. In addition, the chemical make-up of seawater makes it highly corrosive – easily observable from metal piers and other buildings and machinery found at popular seaside destinations.

There is also increased risk from fire during operations due to the widespread use of combustible materials and chemicals including oil, cleaning chemicals and lubricants. This clearly has a significant impact on working conditions, which may also mean a requirement for effective breathing equipment. Importantly, marine and offshore environments also need to be self sufficient to a large degree, as help can be a long time in coming, or may not even be possible if an event occurs when the weather does not allow for helicopters or ocean vessels to reach the ship or platform. Fire is obviously a significant danger when help is far away, meaning that there should be a major effort put into fire prevention, protection and elimination. Fire prevention can be enhanced by appropriate storage of combustible materials and the immediate and effective clean up of spills, as well as by using fire-prevention devices such as heat sensors and other industrial Internet-of-Things based systems and devices.

Personal Protection

To enable greater personal safety, suitable protection is provided by Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as protective clothing and respirators, along with fire extinguishers and blankets, which should be located close to risk hazards, including those products especially developed to deal with specialist risk events such as electrical fires. Additionally, PPE such as helmets, gloves, safety glasses and shoes must be designed to withstand icy cold winds as well as decks and equipment made slippery from constant sea spray. Also, fall-arrest equipment needs to be able to withstand extra movement caused by high winds and slippery surfaces and also be durable against the additional corrosion caused by seawater. Additionally, purchasers of spill clean-up systems need to take into account that the proposed solution may be affected by complex interactions between chemical substances and oil combining with seawater.

RS Components offers a wide range of high-quality affordable own-brand RS Pro products that target the marine and offshore industries and has distribution relationships with a number of world-leading manufacturers of products and solutions that meet ATEX specifications and others as mentioned previously. RS also works closely with ShipServ, the largest e-marketplace and service provider for the marine and oil and gas industries. Buyers and maintenance engineers can also download documents such as ATEX approvals or shipbuilder certificates from the RS website, as well as gaining access to RS’ product data library (PDL) via the company’s Designspark website. RS also provides eProcurement solutions, which allow the purchasing of products from locations such as an offshore platform or even an anchored boat.

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