Making waves in the marine industry

Beijer Electronics produce all-purpose operator panels and software solutions for diverse industries, including panels for harsh environments. Here, owner of Seattle-based Bluefin Marine Dave Bechtel explains how working with Beijer Electronics HMI solutions has helped his business create a state-of-the-art automation solution in the marine industry.

The Crowley tug Goliah operating out of Long Beach, Los Angeles.

Can you describe what Bluefin Marine do?

Dave Bechtel: We started Bluefin Marine in 2008. After many years in controls, I wanted to work specifically in the marine industry because boats are my real passion. We design HMI solutions that provide a graphical view of what’s going on inside the generator controls and the switch gear of a tugboat or passenger ferry or a big yacht. Taking information out of the controllers and displaying it on operator panels helps the crews identify problems and analyze data. Once we are commissioned, we design and build the HMI solutions and take them out to the boats.

What are the current trends within marine automation and what is Bluefin Marine’s philosophy on the industry?

DB: It really hinges on a couple of different things that aren’t necessarily obvious. The marine industry is being driven by carbon fuel usage and emissions. Companies are having to deal with tougher and more restrictive rules. The only way to stay compliant is to make engines completely electronic. This means you can control the use of fuel accurately - and in particular the discharge. We’ve latched onto that concept, because it produces a huge amount of information about the engine that is useful to the operators. If there is something wrong with the engine, it will produce fault codes, give you fuel pump data, tell you your temperature is too high, and so on.

Many of the tugboats we work on burn through 5,000-10,000 gallons of diesel a day. Some of the new technologies can cut that down by 10%, 20% or even 30%. But you can’t fix anything until you know what you are looking at and quantify it somehow. Our business used to be pretty simple, but now, people on the bridge want to see all this data. It can be quite challenging, which is why Beijer’s operator panels are so important to us.

“In the end what we produced was like an alarm system on steroids!”

Dave Bechtel, owner of Seattle-based Bluefin Marine in the workshop.

One of your latest projects is the Crowley tug Goliah project. Can you please describe it?

DB: The Goliah is a big harbour tug operating out of Long Beach, Los Angeles.

The project was a retro-fit of their alarm system - designed to give the chief engineer an idea of what is going on inside the engine room. It was originally built back in the 1970s and for its day it was kind of advanced, but it had reached the end of its life-cycle.

Because we were already using Beijer’s operator panels, we saw it as a big opportunity not just to fix the old alarms but to give our customer a lot more. We decided to make it part of a backbone of the whole monitoring system for the vessel, bringing in data not just from the alarms, but from all the main engines and the generators. In the end what we produced was like an alarm system on steroids!

It was really powerful in the sense that, not only were we just looking at a few discrete points, we were looking at all the data from all the gen sets.

What are the benefits of using Beijer Electronics’ products?

DB: Their technology has everything we need right now. Most importantly, they have all the marine approvals to satisfy our customers, plus the coastguard, American Bureau of Shipping and other organizations that regulate the industry.

Beijer Electronics have a real flare to their drivers. They allow us to understand all this information that a generator is producing. I always say it is like having a translator converting text from Russian into something I can actually understand and use!

Whenever you get a package of drivers together it’s called a “gateway”. It allows you to create common ground in machine languages and protocols by converting them into one standard protocol. Essentially it is the technology that makes the operator panels work. We use Beijer’s iX software as our gateway. It is straightforward and easy to use as well as being very durable - I would say “industrially hardened”. You can reboot and it will work every single time.

We then have the Beijer Electronics X2 marine aluminum-framed, 15-inch color touchscreen as our main graphical display. The X2 series has quad-processors so they work fast and display really nicely. There is no data lag or display lag in the graphics.

It might be that other companies manufacture operator panels with the same level of sophistication, but as far as I am aware, Beijer’s is unique to the marine industry.

Why did Bluefin Marine choose Beijer Electronics?

DB: A lot of the larger companies we work with see the value in preventive maintenance. Being able to eliminate unplanned downtime and unnecessary servicing is crucial for them. Tugboats lease out from anything between $20,000-$40,000 per day, so whenever they are out of commission it is really expensive. If our clients can extend the life cycle of a fuel pump just by trending and monitoring it, that might mean it can go another cycle rather than having to be swamped. There is an immediate payback. Beijer’s operator panels pull this data together, so for us they were an obvious choice.

The other thing is that they have really outstanding tech support. That’s what really sealed the deal. I’ve been in the industry more than 40 years so I can cut through the bluffing pretty easily when someone doesn’t know their stuff. Beijer’s tech support staff are a notch above. I’ve always held Siemens support team as the gold standard, but Beijer’s are right up there with them.

What have been the highlights of working with Beijer Electronics?

DB: I’ve had really good one-on-ones with all Beijer’s sales staff. They are very technically-minded and know their products very well. But it is really the tech support that I value the most.

The most impressive thing is that they do fieldwork too. One time, I was stuck between two time-critical jobs. I called Beijer, and their field application engineer, Adam, flew out on less than 24 hours’ notice. I simply handed the baton to him and he did the last day wrap-up so I could head over to the other project on the opposite side of the bay.

I was particularly impressed because I dropped him into a really challenging situation where the boat was leaving the next day and they needed to do several screen modifications and tweaks. But he was very calm and professional and managed the client perfectly.

I know Beijer Electronics are keen to get their guys out into the field more, and for me that’s a real selling point: That a guy you can trust will fly out on short notice and help you finish the job.