power plant tuning



Seafaring profession is full of all kinds of stories and beliefs. It is fascinating for a landlubber like myself to hear these things and sometimes even see them in real life actions. One could consider that those days are over when sailors were superstitious. I can guarantee that they are not.

I once visited a ship, where there was a picture of Virgin Mary in a cyclo-converter’s wall. (For those who do not know: cyclo-converter was – old generation – huge electrical device turning the propellers according Captain’s request. One such unit could control 20MW of propulsion power.) This unit was a source of some trouble many years before my visit onboard, although nobody did not remember anymore what kind of trouble it was originally.

They had a tradition to have the picture there and the engineer doing his checking round was touching the picture, when passing by. This made the whole propulsion to run perfectly. Therefore, I did face some difficulties to perform the audit that I was called for.  Even the Captain of the ship called me down to propulsion room to say that I should not endanger the perfect operation of the propulsion.

On another ship, and this is quite common inside the Greek or Italian ships, all technical rooms were having garlics hanging from the roof. I once asked if this is against witches or what is the purpose?
– There is no harm in this, was the answer.
I must admit that this was true, I could not name any harm resulting in having garlics hanging from the roof.

But there are also stories and misbeliefs that are leading the crew to do weird things. Good example of this is a scandinavian ship, that was operating with two engines parallel in the auxiliary power plant. The crew thought that one of the engines is “slower” and therefore this one was difficult to pair with others. So, for this reason they had all the time one man correcting this engines speed manually from the control room wall switches. His job was to keep loads equal and to prevent blackouts. And it did work well. Vessel was operating quite reliable manner. Every time when load started to travel from “slow” engine to another, the duty engineer boosted the speed from the switch and managed to balance the situation again.

After convincing the crew that there is a problem, it took us few hours to tune the power plant together. It was not actually speed problem at all, but a voltage problem between generators. Before leaving the ship, I did try to propose them to put a picture of Virgin Mary on top of the voltage regulator that required maintenance. Maybe that would help. They looked at me like I am crazy, so I decided not to push more. Just smiled internally. I have not heard from this ship ever since, so maybe the tuning has been proved to be successful.

I ended up – not selling holy pictures – but to write a Power Plant Tuning Guide, which is available in our webshop. I sincerely hope that it will not be considered as a legend or myth, but a true and existing tool for all ships out there. Specialists are not easily available to travel these days, so better to save that cost and effort and try this simple guidance first. If you manage to do the necessary tuning yourself, it pays you back immediately. Believe me, it is a good omen for your ship to have the Power Plant Tuning Guide onboard :).


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Managing the electrical system project in a ship

Heikki Bergman

I am expert on supporting conceptual decisions and pre-design in electrical ship concepts and modernizations. I have worked in power electronics since 1994, completely in marine since 1998. I have long and practical international experience.

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