Lessons Learned at Sea

What has six 17,000-horsepower diesels, can generate 70 megawatts of electricity, desalinate 500,000 gallons of water every day and serves Mojitos by the hot tub? A cruise ship, of course.

I spent a very nice week aboard Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, sailing just before Christmas.

Chief engineer Ole Pedersen was kind enough to take time from his busy day to give me a tour of the engine room. Now they don't do this for everyone. But since I am an ex-merchant mariner and a maintenance guy, and I begged so nicely, he gave me the tour.

Imagine walking into a really clean factory, hundreds of feet long. The six Wartsila turbocharged 12-cylinder diesels spin at 514 rpm to generate 17,000 horsepower each. The ship gets a little more than 1,000 gallons per mile, including free hot water and desalinization.

Of course the ship could use a diet, weighing in at 160,000 tons. That is about 45 tons per guest aboard.

One difference since my sea-duty days was the complete absence of the propeller shaft. Modern ships use powerful 11,000-volt motors attached right to the propellers.

The Independence of the Seas is powered by three ABB electric propulsion units. Two of them hang in a pod below the bottom of the ship and can rotate 360 degrees. The third one is fixed.

The ship can haul out at 24 knots. There are four bow thrusters for maneuvering.

What all this means is that, leaving Haiti, we did a U turn in just over the length of the ship. That was impressive.

The ship produces electricity and its own water. Hot water is made from waste heat from the engine cooling system.

The ship also had a sewage treatment plant, extensive air conditioning and heating equipment and plenty of juice for passengers' computers, hairdryers, shaving gear, etc.

The kitchen's 162 chefs can turn out 16,500 meals a day.

The 61-person maintenance department takes care of all this, plus the kitchen equipment, laundry equipment, telecommunications/Internet/TV equipment, hospital and the ship's communications equipment.

The Independence of the Seas measures 1,100 feet from bow to stern and 128 feet abeam.

The control room looked something like the bridge of the Star Trek spacecraft. Every function of the ship could be called up on the flat-panel displays circling the room. Imagine being able to see the temperature of each engine bearing and turbocharger, as well as the electrical output from each generator.

Control room personnel could even tell if a balcony door was open since it deactivates the room AC unit.

The control room operators had a four-hour watch and an eight-hour maintenance shift each day. They spend quite a bit of time doing TLC (tighten, lubricate and clean) maintenance.

At sea, breakdowns that are noticed by the guests are rare due to the high level of maintenance and built-in redundancy. The ship can run on the electricity generated by only four engines. This was normal operation. Two engines were on standby when I toured.

This seemed true for all the systems.

Of course if there is a breakdown, the ship has a well-equipped machine shop and complete fabrication capability, and a crew with skills to use both.

With more than 5,500 guests and crew aboard, a serious problem with the ship could be catastrophic.

The Independence of the Seas has made good maintenance practices - including PM, inspection, testing, predictive maintenance and rigorous logging of all events, part of their standard operating procedures.

They use a CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) to manage work orders and schedule PMs regularly. They keep their equipment clean, tight and lubricated appropriately.

Still, chief engineer Pedersen reminded me: "The system is only as good as the information going into it."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Hope you had a great holiday season.

Joel Levitt has trained over 6,000 maintenance leaders from over 3,000 organizations. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues.