Wednesday, 08 April 2020

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”: Subsea maintenance models in 2020

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Wednesday 19 February 20

Most of the industry seem satisfied with existing maintenance models, but there are still scope for improvement

At least on a superficial level, maintenance models in the subsea cable industry have stayed effectively the same for the past 30 years.   For the most part, ships can be rapidly dispatched to fix faults efficiently, without too much of a knock-on effect to the cable’s end user. This is evidenced by the fact that most of the general public still believes that their phone calls are handled by satellite…

At least on a superficial level, maintenance models in the subsea cable industry have stayed effectively the same for the past 30 years.
 
For the most part, ships can be rapidly dispatched to fix faults efficiently, without too much of a knock-on effect to the cable’s end user. This is evidenced by the fact that most of the general public still believes that their phone calls are handled by satellite, noted Facebook submarine cable engineer Andy Palmer-Felgate, speaking at this year’s Submarine Networks EMEA event.
 
However, the maintenance industry is not without its problems.
 
The need to go green is increasing, but this is a tall order for vessel owners. 
 
“We’re not going to see We’re not going to see eco ships powered by green energy on the horizon anytime soon,” said Palmer-Felgate, noting that instead the move to tackle environmental concerns will be more gradual. From a vessels choice of lighting to paint which facilitates movement, thus reducing fuel consumption, a variety of strategies are being employed to try and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. 
 
One idea being postulated is to repurpose potentially idle ships for new tasks in other adjacent industries, such as servicing power cables and oceanic surveys. 
 
“Building a new ship is a lot less environmentally friendly than repurposing an existing ship,” said Bruce Neilson-Watts, managing director – telecoms, at Global Marine.
 
However, this repurposing has its own complications. In order to be environmentally efficient, ships need to avoid long journeys when a cable fault arises, which could be problematic if they are committed to work elsewhere. 
 
In order to truly improve, closer coordination between maintenance companies and cable operators are needed.
 
Cable owners in particular need to be incentivised to plan routes more efficiently, avoiding high risk areas, rather than trying to simply repair the same fault over and over again when it inevitably occurs. 
 
Planning and coordination must be taken on behalf of the vessel owners too. The ships they own are increasingly old and there is a worrying risk of all of them reaching obsolescence at around the same time.
 
Overall, it seems that the current models around cable maintenance are sound and are unlikely to change radically in the coming decades. However, the new concerns, particularly surrounding the environment, mean that there are still many improvements to be made.
 
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Sturgeon in summary. “But we have a wealth of technology and capability now. We must find a way to add value, perhaps through improved ship design.”
 
 
To find out all of the latest news from Submarine Networks EMEA 2020, follow the event on Twitter at #SubNetsEMEA
 
 
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