The Cost of Doing ‘Nothing’!
Environmental monitoring is essential to almost all marine and coastal operations, collecting data in real-time, 24 hours a day, transmitting that data and making it available to those who need it most reliably and continuously. The systems that underpin this monitoring comprise a variety of hardware and software components, from the sensors that acquire the data through to the applications that display and disseminate it. All components need to work seamlessly and reliably together, without interruption, to support decision making, enhance health and safety, and improve efficiencies. Storing the data in an historical archive can be used to support engineering, environmental and climatological studies.
Using the latest technological advances, OceanWise has been at the forefront of upgrading, installing and supporting marine and coastal monitoring systems for almost 10 years. During this time, we are often asked by our customers:
- How can I ensure that my initial investment in equipment continues to deliver accurate and reliable data into the future?
- What maintenance and recalibration regime should I adopt that is beneficial but not overly onerous or costly?
Each of these can be answered at least initially by asking what would happen if you do nothing? And the answer to that question is more easy to come by:
- Sensor performance will be degraded, so data quality will reduce over time i.e. the data will become unreliable
- Components are more likely to fail, with a sudden reduction or complete cessation of data retrieval
- System downtime will become more frequent and extended, potentially leading to a total or partial halt in operations
- Unnecessary costs are likely to be incurred, as equipment will need to be repaired or replaced prematurely
- Overall, situational awareness and user confidence will be compromised, leading to increased risk of accidents or incidents
By having a planned i.e. systemised approach to maintenance you can maximise your investment over the lifetime of the instruments (leading to better return on investment) and are less likely to have periods of downtime. Having trust in data is very important – unreliable, incomplete or inaccurate data is almost as bad as no data at all!
Waiting until there is a problem is not an option, as safety and efficiency are paramount, particularly if damage to sensors and data downtime can be avoided.
What do we mean by Systemised Maintenance?
When any instrumentation is ‘in situ’ it is at the mercy of the ‘environment’ which can impact upon its operation (i.e. exposure to water ingress, wind damage, high or low temperatures, as well as accidental and deliberate damage). Over time, such exposure can have an effect on the reliability and robustness of any equipment. Exposure to seawater can be particularly destructive, as biofouling becomes prevalent. Living organisms in the water will naturally attach themselves to any hard surface, building up over time leaving instruments coated. Left unmaintained, the instrument can become unreliable and ultimately will fail at some point.
Planning regular maintenance and having set periodic checks, servicing and cleaning will result in avoidance of build-up or damage early and give you a chance to replace parts where required, resulting in extended an lifetime and improved reliability and accuracy.
We are seeing unpredictable and unprecedented environmental conditions due to climate change (higher tides, more frequent storm surges, stronger and more frequent winds, rising sea levels, warmer temperatures etc). So it is more important than ever that we are checking instrumentation to ensure that it doesn’t fail when we need it most. The ‘fit and forget’ approach will leave you open to instrumentation failure or inaccuracy, thus putting operations at risk.
How often should I maintain equipment?
The regularity of maintenance will depend on the equipment and the environment in which it is placed. Consider your specific environmental conditions. For example in warmer waters, biofouling will be greater than in cooler waters. Consider other ‘threats’, for example, are you at risk of physical damage, due to vandalism or theft? Are you able to protect your assets better to avoid damage? Does my system give me status reports and include automated alerts if there’s a problem?
Consider the time of year and how seasonal conditions might affect the equipment and whether you need to have more or fewer checks at certain points of the year. For example, consider changes such as wildlife migration, warmer/cooler waters, more/less marine traffic, seasonal weather patterns etc.
Regular maintenance will undoubtedly maximise the lifespan of your equipment meaning an increased return on investment.
Our 7 simple steps to a good approach:
- Evaluate: Think about what systems you have, what instruments you have and how they take their measurements and evaluate where any susceptibility might lie.
- Assess the level of risk: How critical is the data from your instrument/s to your operations and / or data needs? What are the potential costs of doing nothing? This should include the potential cost of operational downtime as this is often the most substantial risk.
- Read the manuals: All equipment should come with a manual and a recommendation for service / maintenance. Take note of what checks can be done by the owner/operator and what needs to be done by a specialist engineer/experienced technician. If you are not sure, contact the manufacturer and make a note of their advice. Keep a hard and soft copy of any manuals and make sure your team know where to find them (and any supporting contact numbers/contacts) quickly, should they need to.
- Contingency planning: Make special note if there is any equipment that needs to be taken away to be specially cleaned/serviced. Make sure that you have a plan for what will be in place during that cleaning period to maintain your data streams. If the data is deemed ‘critical’ you should carry replacements or spares (or have an agreement / contract in place with someone who will stock them). You should have an emergency plan which includes clear actions to take in the case of a data failure.
- Educate: Make sure that your team has the knowledge and experience to keep your operations going. Ensure you always have a number of people within the business who know what to do. Ensure easy access to any important information / manuals and where data is critical.
- Adopt a ‘whole system’ approach: It’s not only maintenance of the equipment that is important, maintenance of all the infrastructure relating to it should also be considered. For example, frames, cabling and power supplies. The loss or theft of a cable could mean the whole system fails – so consider whether to hold spare parts or keep note where you can get hold of a replacement quickly, should you need to.
- Monitor: No longer can we rely solely on the past to help us predict the future. Unpredictability is now the reality and so monitoring your instruments, the data they output as well as being aware of what effects the current environment might be having on your systems, is very important. Read any service or maintenance reports particularly the ‘recommend actions’ and cross reference them with previous years if you can. How equipment interacts with the environment now might be different (to for example 3 years ago), so adjustments in your planning and scheduling might be required. By being proactive with maintenance and reactive to conditions and effects, you are much less likely to encounter equipment failure, which means reduced risk and cost savings in the long run.
As part of OceanWise’s total solution for marine and coastal monitoring, we provide consultancy and advice on the most appropriate monitoring system for your situation. Being independent of any given equipment manufacturer, you can be confident that our advice will be impartial. Post installation, we also offer maintenance and servicing, including arranging recalibration of sensors where required, all using experienced and certified field engineers. Find out more here.