Editor’s Note — As the marine world finally catches up to the rest of modern life, electronics are controlling more and more of the systems on our boats. Although some old salts will claim otherwise, this is a good thing. It means our engines run more reliably, efficiently and pollute a great deal less. It also means we have more precise control of our major systems — everything from batteries, to air conditioners, tank monitors and safety and entertainment systems. The next big step in marine modernization is monitoring — getting all those electrons to give us a complete picture of what’s happening on our boats, and giving us the opportunity to interact with and control those systems — all from the helm (or wherever else we want, as we’ll see later in this article). There are a relatively small, but growing number of companies developing monitoring and control systems for our increasingly electronic boats. One in particular, KEP Marine, is offering a family of products that scale nearly perfectly all the way from a center-console fishing boat to a superyacht hundreds of meters in length. Here’s a look at what they’re offering and why I think it’s worth consideration by anyone considering a new boat or a major refit.
KEP Marine’s Intelligent Vessel Monitoring System (IVMS) can give captains of everything from small fishing boats to superyachts precise monitoring and control of nearly every system on their boats. And it does so using an open-standards system that easily handles whatever proprietary data system a particular component manufacturer may be using, so you don’t have to worry about establishing a single data bus format on your boat. Today’s boat captains have high-definition, flat-screen, multi-function displays to help them navigate, investigate and explore. Now they can have the same kind of inward-looking vision and awareness of what’s going on inside their boats. Ultimately, this means far fewer nasty failures and surprises and a safer boating experience.
An Open Standards System
The KEP Marine IVMS was developed using open standards, which means that standard Ethernet protocols are used. The company has developed its system to operate with nearly any information protocol from the individual devices aboard your boat, whether NMEA 2000, CAN bus, MOD bus or company-proprietary.
This might be one of the most significant features of the KEP Marine IVMS, since the ongoing lack of device and network standardization in the marine industry can frustrate even the most dedicated efforts of builder, captains and installers to get major and minor systems onboard to talk nicely to each other. Fortunately, the KEP Marine staff have worked closely with all the major systems and engine-makers and understand how to link these systems into the IVMS. This is where years of experience in not only the marine industry, but the industrial monitoring and control business pay dividends.
The system uses a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) from WAGO, a type of digital computer used to monitor and control mechanical, electrical and electronic equipment. It differs from a general purpose computer in that it is capable of many simultaneous inputs and outputs and is normally designed to withstand the environmental rigors of an industrial (or marine, in this case) environment.
Three Basic Levels Lead to Infinite Scalability
The KEP Marine IVMS is offered in three basic configurations — the IVMS, IVMS Pro, and IVMS Unlimited. The standard IVMS package is designed specifically for recreational vessels under 50 feet in length. It allows the captain to monitor and mange the most critical information onboard using a dedicated sunlight-readable 7″ touchscreen display. Here’s a list of some of the typical monitoring and control functions for such a boat:
- Battery levels
- Shore power
- Smoke and CO detection
- Tank Levels, including fuel, freshwater and blackwater
The simplest installation might be for a center-console fishing boat, where the IVMS is monitoring all the basic systems, but might also be controlling the aeration of the baitwell when water temperature or species change. A boat owner might spend around $5,000 for a system like this, which will earn back its investment the first time you head offshore in a big tournament and discover a dying engine battery before you get stranded in the Gulf Stream. The standard package includes the 7″ display, control panel, terminal block kit and a choice of 16 monitoring selections. The graphics on the display are user-configurable.
The IVMS Pro series includes all the features of the base system but expands the “human interface” software element to support additional monitoring stations, remote viewing, full engine monitoring and switching of electrical circuits. A typical IVMS Pro installation will include one sunlight-readable panel for an outdoor station — say a flybridge — and one standard panel for an indoor station, likely the pilothouse helm. This is the kind of system you would expect to find on an offshore cruising yacht or sailboat, with more and more-complex systems to both monitor and control.
Imagine a Nordhavn or Kadey-Krogen trawler offshore with engines, generators, watermakers, extensive fuel and water management systems, hydraulic systems like stabilizers, and an extensive HVAC system with several zones. All are easily handled with a single PLC in an IVMS Pro installation. The owner of such a yacht might spend $50,000 to $70,000 for a system like this, once the components, installation and software development is totaled. My feeling is that level of expense is likely to be well-leveraged when insurance premiums and unscheduled repair costs are figured into total operating and ownership costs.
When you get into the superyacht and ship category, you will see IVMS Unlimited series systems using a PC to drive more extensive and customizable displays of all the systems. The addition of the PC — called an “Operator Work Station” in the IVMS system, is a type-approved computer with a solid-state hard drive and Windows Embedded OS. The Unlimited series still use the WAGO PLC for connecting and controlling sensors and actuators. With the Unlimited series, display and control panels can be installed throughout the vessel — picture crew’s mess and cabins, engine room and other key locations. Unlimited systems might require an investment of $150,000 or more, depending on the size and scope of the installation. While that might seem like a lot of money, it’s quite normal in the superyacht industry to allocate those kinds of resources to safety, monitoring and control systems, many of which are required by the classification societies that govern shipbuilding at that level.
Consider a system like the KEP Marine IVMS, either at the basic or PRO level if you are going to have a new boat or yacht built, And if you are buying an older vessel and planning a major refit, particularly one where electrical and plumbing runs will be completely replaced, you’ll be in a good position to incorporate the IVMS in the refit. The process will involve working with a local dealer and installer but you will undoubtedly work with the KEP Marine staff directly as well, since they do all the programming of the PLCs in-house. They have programmed controllers for nearly every type and brand of system on today’s yachts, so your system is unlikely to pose any difficulty. The PLCs they typically use in most installations are programmable via SD memory card, which makes modifying and updating the program (and backing it up) extremely simple.
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