If you’ve been following my posts or this project at all, you’ve probably heard me refer to our principal technical risk: that being weight, center of gravity, and volume related issues. I’ve explained how we’re required to carry much of the same equipment as larger vessels such as all the computing resources for our multi-beam SONARS, the deployable centerboard, and capable over-the-side handling equipment. You’ve probably heard me mention that we have the same requirements as other Coast Guard “inspected” vessels such as the need for a hospital, bridge and the engine room compartment size. We also have several new requirements that other research vessels have not dealt with before such as the EPA’s Tier IV emissions standards and ballast water treatment. All told, it’s been a lot of STUFF to cram into a regional class vessel in a way that can actually be constructed and maintained.
As we’ve moved through the DVT process, our friends over at Genoa Design International have been busy putting the design into a very detailed computer model, called Ship Constructor (C) . They’ve included all the piping, HVAC conduit, electrical wireways, and all the individual pieces of auxiliary machinery needed to keep the ship moving. They’ve added the Caterpillar C-32 engines and all associated controls. They’ve put in the winches and tensioners from Rapp/Triplex. And they’ve been able to do so using the information furnished from the vendors themselves (called VFI, vendor furnished information). This VFI is critical to getting things to fit correctly. During conceptual and preliminary design, we take our best guess at how large and how heavy things will be. We ask potential vendors to provide what they can, but because we’re not sure who or what vendor will actually be selected by the shipyard (during our open procurement process) and because the vendor is not actually getting paid to supply this information, it’s not alway all that accurate and actually is often rather optimistically small and light. That’s why we add a good bit of margin to all the estimates we use during early stages of design. Nonetheless, it’s always a bit of a crapshoot… we have to take an educated guess, but ultimately what the vendor provides when on contract can’t always be accurately predicted.
All this to say that we’re currently exploring a change to the design that adds six feet of length so that we can get everything to fit.
Let me explain briefly what I mean by “fit”. We actually look at the vessels’ end of life condition when making weight and volume decisions. Specifically, we look at a kind of worst case scenario: the ship is 30 years old, has grown fat in its old age with years of accumulated equipment, it’s covered with ice, and one compartment is flooded– can it survive? Even if the vessel is fine at delivery, if it won’t be fine in this scenario, that’s not good enough.
People sometimes look at ship’s length as THE marker of its size and class. When viewed through this lens, the addition of a few feet could change everything, somehow. The reality is, an additional six feet only makes the ship safer and easier to maintain. It will improve the quality of life for all on board through better arrangements. It won’t increase operational costs nor add additional capabilities. As we’re still in the “paper phase” of the project, the cost of the change is manageable as there’s no steel work to undo or redo. And the scope of what we’re looking at adds no additional water-tight compartment requirements nor moves us into a higher inspection class. In short, it’s the right thing to do.
We’d have preferred not to lengthen, but after weighing all the options this is the best way forward. The change isn’t finalized yet, but we’re heading that way.
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