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2018:  JAN | FEB

Avoiding a Case of Mistaken Identity
Stephen Earley
Technology on board ships is changing fast as shipbuilders, OEMs and fitters install services that require more power and data. This new functionality is at the forefront of a new wave of efficiency in the maritime sector that is pushing toward better environmental performance and enhanced operational efficiency.

Many vessels are moving toward hybrid and electric propulsion in response to environmental legislation, with installation of battery systems, drives and motors in place of mechanically driven propulsion. Some operators, including the U.S. Navy, are planning to increase the size of the fleet while limiting the number of sailors. Smart systems will pick up jobs that used to require manpower, with more cables and wires feeding a wide array of sensors, machinery, antennas and diagnostic devices.

Similarly, vessels in the civil fleet are doing more with less to enhance the efficiency of sea transport. For example, sensors that monitor the condition of diesel engines, quality of engine exhaust gases or performance of emission control equipment are now in use. On board cruise and passenger vessels, services have also grown quickly, with an increasing number of drives used in HVAC systems for more energy-efficient delivery of cooling, heating, air quality and waste treatment systems.

Low-emission electric propulsion may seem to have little in common with a diagnostics system on a diesel engine, but all of these new technologies and services rely on new electrical circuits. The long-term success of all these onboard services will depend on the reliable identification of the networks of wire and cable, as well as the terminals, panels and devices.

Identification can take the form of printable heat-shrink tubing, adhesive labels and markers, and there are many different products currently on the market. Each of these is suited to its own types of application.

Some markers come in the form of pre-printed markers made up of individual characters that literally spell out the alphanumeric code for each cable. Such systems work well for low-volume or one-off projects.

For large, complex or high-volume jobs, installers and OEMs prefer more automated solutions that they can print out themselves. These can take the form of rectangular-shaped adhesive labels used to identify components and equipment, heat-shrink tubing that slips over wire, or self-adhesive labels that can be used to flag or wrap onto cable.

Given these differences, what is true for all identification systems is that for a system to be successful it needs to remain in place and readable, no matter what environmental conditions it faces.

For example, a termination on the topside would need to withstand wet, extremes of cold and heat, salt, mechanical wear and tear, and ultraviolet light. A cable carrying signals from a sensor inside the engine to a diagnostics unit would have to perform in spite of exposure to diesel, lubrication, corrosive fluids, vibration and high temperatures. Because of this, the identification systems for the termination and cable, for example, would also have to be capable of withstanding the harsh environmental conditions.

While identification markers are small in size, they are used in large and growing numbers. Because there are so many of them, low fire hazard (LFH) performance is important for all markers used in maritime applications so that they do not contribute to risk during a fire incident.

Legibility and staying power are what give identification systems their value during the many maintenance inspections, repairs, refits and refurbishments over the life of a vessel. They represent a savings of time and effort for technicians and engineers, removing the need to trace cables and examine technical drawings. With this in mind, markers that remain in place and readable over the lifetime of an installation are essential.

Proper specification of identification systems will ensure their performance—and it’s worth understanding the materials science behind identification to have confidence in specifying the right product. Markers can fail either because the marker falls off as a result of the material it is made of having crumbled, snapped, dissolved or melted, or because the mark has faded, rubbed or dissolved away. Both the material and the mark on it need to perform in combination to ensure long-term performance. Using a nonspecialist ink for a high-performance application could result in premature failure. This is why identification should be considered a system rather than a product.

In the case of good-quality markers, the material, ink, printer and print software are developed, manufactured and tested together as a system with tight end-to-end control during manufacture of every batch. Markers are often based on polymer materials such as polyethylene or polyvinyl fluoride, but these must be combined with minerals and other additives to achieve the high performance needed to withstand the tough environments experienced in the marine industries, including high-demanding defense applications.

Repeatability is also vital during manufacture. Varying mixing rate, grain size or temperature can all change the characteristics of a polymer—and limit its life span. The same is true when printing markers in the workshop—because identification is developed and tested as a system, its performance can only be guaranteed when printed with the right combination of material, printer, printer ribbon and printer software.

Identification systems must keep up with the growing demands on maritime tech to maintain smooth operations.

Stephen Earley serves as the global product manager for TE’s cable identification products, including cable markers, labelling and accessories. He has many years of experience in the identification market, dating back to 1992. Earley joined TE in 2015, tasked with handling the responsibility of driving and growing the business across the harsh-environment markets around the world.

2018:  JAN | FEB

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