“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

The title of this post is from a quote by physicist Stephen Hawking. Though I doubt he was referring to ship building, it’s as true for us as it is anywhere. How we adapt to and manage change to our design will, as much as anything, be a measuring stick by which the success of the project will be measured. A recent study by the consulting firm McKinsey and Co. found that large construction projects go over budget by an average of 80%.  That’s a staggering number to me. It’s most likely a combination of two main factors.  First, poor (overly optimistic) planning; and second, insufficient change controls.

What is a change control? If you’ve ever remodeled a house you know what I mean.  You’ve come up with a plan and as you get into it you think something along the lines of “Boy, it sure be nice if we…”  or someone says “Hey, I’ve got a good idea. What if we…”  phrases like those mean that your plan could be in for a change.  You’re going to do something different–and in the construction world, different typically means dollars.

The RCRV project, as I’ve mentioned, is overseen by the National Science Foundation’s Large Facilities Office and funded through its “Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction” line. As a result, we are in a “no cost overrun” environment. That means, if we’ve planned poorly or if we manage change with inadequate vigor and costs rise, we’re out of luck. There will be no cost overruns.

That’s largely why we spent as long as we did planning and budgeting and then planning some more and then re-budgeting.  Part of our planning process involved evaluating risks to the project. The team spent a lot of time asking the “what if” questions and thinking of things that could go wrong in order to create a list of known unknowns. We then looked to mitigate these risks how best we could.  One such risk that we identified was “requirements changes.”  The intent of that was to be prepared to respond when the requirements that led to our baseline design changed.

Keep in mind that there requirements and then there are “REQUIREMENTS.”  Things like “the vessel shall be able to accommodate 16 scientists” or “the vessel shall have azimuthing drives” are the latter. These types of requirements drive the entire design. Changing from Azimuthing drives to conventional shafts or designing the ship to accommodate 20 scientists would be very significant scope, schedule, and cost changes. But the former, the lower case requirements, are spelled out throughout the contract specifications.  Sometimes these need to change a bit because a safety hazard was revealed, the original specification was inefficient or just plain wrong, or maybe Gulf Island had a different way of constructing something then we originally thought possible. But no matter how noble the reason, a change is a change and changes cost money.  Changes made early in the process cost less than those made later, and that, in a nutshell, defines why we are going through this process of “Design Verification and Transfer.”

All this to say….drumroll….we’ve had our first official change. It’s true. It’s a lower case requirements change in what to most people would be a rather mundane and overlooked system. I won’t spell out every change we make, but I’ll summarize this one for a sense of scale:  A ship’s chiller provides for, among other things, air conditioning. Our original chiller had only one source of power. If that source failed, the entire vessel could lose air conditioning. The change we’ve made was to provide the ability to manually switch the chiller to another source of power if need be.  This change should cost less than $5,000 per vessel and we have likely saved some future sea going Chief Engineer a lot of headaches.

So there it is. We will continue to monitor change requests very closely both during the DVT process, and, more so, during construction. But we’ll always remember our first one…

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What Will Our Scientific Cyberinfrastructure Look Like In The Next 40 Years?


This week’s entry is from Chris Romsos, the project’s Datapresence guru. Can you tell he just came out of a technical workshop?

Thanks for tuning in.  //Demian


Did you know?  “United States federal research funders use the term cyberinfrastructure to describe research environments that support advanced data acquisition, data storage, data management, data integration, data mining, data visualization and other computing and information processing services distributed over the Internet beyond the scope of a single institution. In scientific usage, cyberinfrastructure is a technological and sociological solution to the problem of efficiently connecting laboratories, data, computers, and people with the goal of enabling derivation of novel scientific theories and knowledge”[1].

The Wikipedia definition above encapsulates well the components and goals of what we call the “datapresence” capabilities for the RCRV.  More on datapresence details in a future post I promise, but for now a working definition:

da•ta•pres•ence, /’dadә,prezәns/, noun – A suite of technologies, processes, and workflows employed for the remote transmission of facts and statistics. Datapresence facilitates remote participation in distant events and promotes increased operational and analytical efficiencies.

Friday Fun Fact: It turns out that Al Gore, while not directly coining the term Cyberinfrastructure (nor inventing the internet), may have paved the way for it with his use of the term National Information Infrastructure.

This week Demian and I travelled to Alexandria, Virginia and attended the 2017 NSF Large Facilities Cyberinfrastructure Workshop for the purpose of providing our input to the question posed in the title of this post.  The workshop was the second such event hosted by the NSF in an effort to foster synergies among NSF Large Facilities and broader Cyberinfrastructure (CI) communities.  As you might imagine, enabling synergistic activities between existing and developing facilities with diverse needs, objectives, and cultures is a knotty problem given the technological complexities of CI and the operational scale of Large Facilities.  My co-worker Jasmine and I attended the foundational NSF Large Facilities CI meeting in December of 2015 and I can report that while recommendations and actions remain outstanding, meeting participants are working hard toward a common understanding of requirements, architectures, best practices, enabling technologies, operational practices, and gaps.

What can we expect in the near-term?  Hopefully, more coordination and open sharing of CI architecture and best practices among the facilities will be the most likely immediate outcome.  There is clearly a desire to stay engaged on the problem and continue the dialog, both informally through mailing lists & social networks and formally through workshop findings and recommendations.  Some of the more difficult issues facing our scientific CI, such as developing and maintaining a skilled workforce in the face of stiff competition from private industry, will take longer to affect.

As the Datapresence Systems Engineer for the RCRV project one of my primary duties is to make sure that we plan, build, and deliver vessels equipped with the CI that can enable the synergistic interactions with other Large Facilities envisioned above.  We do this by reviewing the CI in place at other facilities with a critical eye, listening to the needs of our future users and, being receptive to the lessons learned of those that came before us.  When I get back to Corvallis my first stop will most likely be to debrief with our CEOAS Research Computing Manager, Chuck Sears.  Chuck has been at the helm of CEOAS Research Computing for roughly 30 years, has a deep understanding of CI across academic and industry domains, and has been an invaluable resource to the RCRV program.

The CI meeting just about caps off a “Cyber” themed month for the RCRV datapresence team.  Three weeks ago, I attended a Cybersecurity workshop hosted by the Center For Trustworthy Cyberinfrastructure.  I’m now at 40,000 feet somewhere over western Virginia en route to our Project Field Office at the shipyard in Houma, LA to build out their office computer network.  I can tell the team is eager to occupy their new office space and I’ll do everything I can over the next four days to make sure they can turn on, tune in, and not drop out (cyber wise) when they get the move in green light from the yard.

As I mentioned, I’ll dive into the details of what makes up our datapresence idea for the RCRVs in a future post.  What we have planned is actually pretty exciting.

Thanks for reading this week.

– Chris Romsos

  1. Cyberinfrastructure. (2017, August 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:56, September 8, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cyberinfrastructure&oldid=795695639
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Force Majeure


Just a quick entry this week. I wanted to pass along that our team in Houma avoided the worst that Harvey had to offer, fortunately.  However, Gulf Island and Gibbs and Cox’s corporate headquarters are in Houston and so it’s been tough for them this week.  Our best wishes to all those who are suffering throughout the region.

I’ve had a couple of questions about what we would do if a hurricane actually did hit the shipyard. Well, through our regular risk planning sessions, we did identify this as a risk that would manifest itself as a project delay in the most likely scenario. In the worst case, the shipyard would be destroyed or the vessel(s) itself (themselves) could receive intense damage.  We have contingencies as well as specific contract language for Force Majeure scenarios such as this, but suffice it to say, we’d all be in a spot of bother sorting it all out.

This reminds me of a presentation I saw several years back by our Chilean colleagues.  It was late February, 2010, literally hours before their brand new and much loved new Research Vessel Cabo de Hornos was to be launched when tragedy struck.  A deadly 8.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the country. Among the damage, Cabo de Hornos was knocked from her blocks setting back the program tremendously.  Fortunately, they’ve since recovered well but it’s certainly a cautionary tale of what could happen.

I’m also pleased to report that the Gulf Island has finalized the first of its Single Source Vendor (SSV) contracts:  they’ve signed Siemens to integrate the RCRVs propulsion systems. We’re excited to be one of the early adopters of their very efficient BlueDrive PlusC system, which we will dive into in a future post.

Next week, I’ll be joined by our Datapresence Systems Engineer, Chris Romsos, for quick trip to NSF’s new Headquarters in Alexandria VA for a Cyber-Infrastructure workshop.  One of the most exciting features of the RCRVs is the cyber-infrastrure we’re developing that will be able to expand the participation of a cruise globally– not just through video, but operationally as well. I think I’ll see if Chris might serve as our first Guest Writer next week and provide more detail…

Ok. That’s it.  Enjoy the long weekend and last bit of summer.

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Who owns the ship’s design?

The expressed need for and requirements of the RCRVs go back decades. Like some ancient fossilized bone, early evidence of RCRV pops up in the 1995 UNOLS Fleet Improvement Plan referencing a 1993 workshop on facilities needs. One of the major steps that eventually helped realize the RCRV dream occurred the following millennium when, in 2005, the Navy created a robust “Statement of Requirements” that became the foundation for the first pre-conceptual design request that was issued in 2006.  This process culminated in a competitive selection of a high-level design submitted by Glosten in 2009.  This design was, in turn, reviewed by the science community and was used ultimately in the issuance of NSF’s solicitation to lead the “design refresh” and construction of the RCRVs that OSU subsequently was selected to lead.

This is the 2009 RCRV design by Glosten. It is 155 feet long.

So… here we are in 2017.  OSU and Glosten have “refreshed” that 2009 design based on the 2005 Navy requirements.  OSU has issued this contract ready package to Gulf Island to construct. The purpose of the Design Verification and Transfer Process that we’re in now, as I’ve mentioned before, is to ensure that the detailed final design is copacetic with the shipyard. Gibbs and Cox is helping to develop those plans.  But the “ship’s design” is really a compilation of a number of smaller designs. For example, the ship’s navigational bridge is complex layout of computers, propulsion controls, alarms and monitoring systems, and more. The patents, and trademarks of these subsystems will be owned by the sub-vendor Gulf Island will select for that purpose.  The engine room is also a design of designs.  Many of the systems there will need to be customized to some degree in order to fit into our working envelope and provide the output specific to the requirements of the RCRV. Neither Glosten, nor Gibbs and Cox, nor OSU or the Gulf Island will be designing these sub-systems.  Our propulsion “Single Source Vendor” (see earlier entry) will be doing that.

So who will own the design? These “Intellectual Property” problems as they’re called, can be quite vexing and need to be agreed to contractually with terms amenable to all parties.  Since this project is ultimately funded by the National Science Foundation and managed under what’s called “The Uniform Guidance”, certain requirements exist that basically translate to “the taxpayer will be the owner of what the taxpayer (as represented by the NSF and by proxy OSU) pays to develop”.  So if a sub-system is developed specifically for the RCRV, the requirement is that the Intellectual Property for that system will be owned by OSU and, ultimately, NSF.

As Gulf Island finalizes their contractual agreements with their Sub Contractors, this is one of the issues that they’re working through.  Who will own what. This may not matter so much in the short term, but these vessels are being built to last. If the previous generation of ships they’re replacing is any guide, these could still be sailing in 2070! There’s not a small chance that over the course the ships’ lifetimes that the future operators are going to need to access the underlying code or subsystems that might otherwise be protected by the vendor. But what if the vendor goes out of business?

Lastly, keep our team in your thoughts this weekend! The shipyard is in the 4-day probability cone for the path of Hurricane Harvey.  Even if they don’t see the winds, the rain as already started. Hopefully it doesn’t get too flooded.

Thanks again for reading.  And remember, if you haven’t already, feel free to subscribe using the little tool up on the right.

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A Single Throat to Choke?

As we head into the heart of summer and many people take their vacations, the OSU shipyard staff are settling in at Gulf Island for the long road ahead.  The shipyard, meanwhile, has been busy finalizing a number of important subcontracts with their “Single Source Vendors” or SSVs.

There will be several SSVs that will work for the shipyard and will be the single point for responsibility for such things as Over the Side Handling equipment (all the winches, controls, frames, etc),  the propulsion system, the bridge and navigation control system, and the underwater acoustic systems.  The concept behind the SSV is that there is one company that will be solely responsible for the work that not only they are providing, but their sub contractors as well.

We’ve learned from other projects that simply using a “Single Source Integrator” doesn’t provide the teeth necessary to efficiently resolve conflicts that may arise between different vendors.  For example, think of your house. Imagine you’re installing new drywall and having it painted. But, unfortunately when the project is done the seams in the drywall look terrible.  The drywaller blames the painter for using cheap paint, and the painter blames the drywalled for poor workmanship.  However, if there was a general contractor  who was solely responsible for all the work, it would be his responsibility to find a way to fix the problem.  I heard someone (not from OSU or the shipyard, by the way) at the kickoff meeting use the term “single throat to choke.”  Though that’s a bit extreme, it gets the point across.  It’s just a very clear method to assign responsibility for the most important and risky aspects of our research ship construction.  In a future post, once the contracts are finalized, I’ll announce who the SSVs will be.

Also this week, we met with a subset of our Science Oversight Committee to address a niggling issue that is very important to them. Basically, the issue has to do with our removable second winch on our Winch Deck (also called the O-1 level).  The science community was adamant that the winch we have specified can not support science operations that they envision the RCRVs should be able to perform.  The winch can not go deep enough with 2000m of .322 EM cable. Their strong preference is that it contain 7000m of .322.  Only then, they maintain, can it act as a true backup winch for our CTD operations, and allow science packages to go to required depths along the continental rise and other areas.

Although we’d love to support this, it’s not so simple as just adding a bigger drum with more wire.  Everything, and I mean everything in ship design, is a trade off.  Adding the additional capability will add up to 5000lbs to an area above the vessel’s center of gravity.  This will affect the ship’s stability and the added weight itself will cause problems to the vessel’s trim calculations.  So… we’re going to look at it.  Fingers crossed we can find a viable solution.  Our friends at the Glosten associates will be looking into this in the weeks ahead.

Ok. That’ll do it for this week.  As always, please feel free to drop in a question or a comment (even if you read this post months from now…).  Thanks for reading.

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Kick Off!

I’m writing this from Houma, Louisiana, one of the nation’s top areas for ship construction and off shore support.  With access to the Gulf of Mexico via the Inter-coastal Waterway about 25 nautical miles south and located about an hour southwest of New Orleans, the amount of vendors, suppliers, outfitters, tech-reps, and manufactures here is incredible. Before this project, I didn’t really appreciate just how much infrastructure and expertise is in this area. I had spent some time in Houma during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but that was spent 20 hours a day in the command center so I didn’t really get out much to see the area.

At the top of the pecking order are the shipyards of which there are several, including of course, our prime contractor–Gulf Island.  Yesterday, OSU, NSF, and Gulf Island reps came together for our first formal meeting to kick off the project.  And it was very evident that all sides are excited to get to the business of building these ships! We discussed schedules, logistics, safety, the contract and those types of things. But the main purpose of the meeting in my estimation was simply to get to know each other. We’re going to be working together for years to come and like most human endeavors both large and small, success or failure often comes down to relationships.  How well do we work together?  Time will tell, but I’m happy to report that from my perspective, we’re off to a good start.  From the Vice President through the Project Manager, engineers, and support staff I’m optimistic for a very good working relationship.

OSU will have a permanent staff at the shipyard whose primary job will be to ensure that ship is built according to the contract. I may be biased, but our shipyard staff is absolutely top notch.  Everyone on it is exactly who you’d want for such a job and their combined experience is mind blowing. I’ve heard it called “the dream team.”  Leading the dream team is our Owner’s Representative who will act as our principal lead for all matters related to the construction. He’ll be supported by a deputy, contract manager, up to four inspectors, and the marine science technical director whose job it is to ensure that these oceanographic research ships are actually capable of conducting oceanographic research. They’re also actually currently hiring an admin assistant, so feel free to throw your hat in the ring if you want to join the dream team!

This model of shipyard staff is somewhat of a hybrid between a large on site staff that the Navy might employ and a smaller footprint that commercial customers might use.  We think we have a good balance of insight/oversight and cost.  Needless to say that when we’ll have three ships under construction at the same time, it’s going to be hopping! If funded as we hope, by the way, that will be in 2020.

One last point and I’ll sign off.  It was pointed out to me that I had a mistake in my last post (I’m sure it won’t be my last).  I had mentioned that European research vessels don’t use a standard deck bolt pattern.  While this may be true for many European ships, the U.K. has employed such a concept as far back as the mid ’80s and today can be found on both R/Vs Discovery and Cook, though the bolts are on either 50cm or 1m centers and not 2 foot centers as they are in the U.S.  I should have remembered this having visited them a few years back.  Both ships have served as inspiration in many ways to the RCRVs.

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe (see right hand side of this page). Feel free to comment or drop a question and I’ll do my best to respond.

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Hit the Deck Running

I was interested to learn that one of the first technical scheduling meetings that we’ve had with Gulf Island had to do with what we call the “UNOLS Standard Deck Bolts.”  Though I found that a somewhat odd place to start, this requirement could be a driver of the shipyard’s build strategy, and, because this feature has not ever been required by their commercial customers,  they needed to learn more about it up front.

The first example of the UNOLS standard bolt pattern can be traced back at least as far as the AGOR 3 Class of ships (Robert Conrad) that were built by the Navy in the early 1960s, a good 10 years before UNOLS was even chartered.  The first Thomas G. Thompson operated by University of Washington was one such vessel. The cold war of the 1960s marked huge growth in the Oceanographic ship community and researchers and operators recognized the need to standardize certain operational features so that researchers could easily work on different ships.  One such feature they devised was series of recessed threads in the back deck into which a 1″ bolt could mate–basically a grid on exactly 2′ centers of 1″ nuts welded in the deck.  This simple system vastly decreases the turn around times between cruises.  Mariners need only unbolt a winch and crane it off, bring on a new anchor system for the next cruise and bolt it down, sound one prolonged blast on the ship’s whistle, and they’re underway. No welding, no grinding.

The system caught on and was incorporated into RVs Knorr and Melville in the late 1960s, into the intermediate Oceanus Class in the early 1970s and the Cape class in the early 1980s, as well as subsequent AGORs.  This standard yet modest design feature has saved countless hours and makes our vessels very adaptable.  The RCRVs will have the 2′ x 2′ foot deck bolt pattern not only on the back deck, but also throughout the foc’sle area, on the O-1 level winch deck, and even up on the Flying Bridge (or Bridge top).  If a science party wants to attach something to an RCRV, we’ll be ready.

I mentioned bolting down winches.  Imagine if a winch was bolted down and the wire rope was very strong and it, say, caught on the ocean bottom.  Then imagine if the standard bolt pattern we’re so proud of was actually not welded in all that strongly. It’s not hard to see that those bolts holding the winch down could just rip the threads right out of the deck maybe taking a big chunk of it with it right overboard. That would indeed be bad.  To avoid such a catastrophe, Glosten and Gibbs and Cox very carefully calculate the shear and pull forces and how to construct our deck to meet those requirements.  In our case, our deck bolts will be rated at 6000 pounds force in both a vertical and 45˚ from vertical plane. If a winch/wire rope has a 20,000 safe working tension, then the winch will need to be bolted with a minimum of four deck bolts to accommodate the force.

Before we started designing the RCRVs, I and OSU’s Marine Superintendent Stewart Lamerdin visited a number of great research ships including several from our European colleagues.  I was a little surprised to learned that many European ships use wood decking material. In fact, the amazing German research vessel R/V Sonne uses Bongossi wood from Africa.  It’s so dense that it doesn’t float. They don’t, however, employ a standard deck bolt pattern as does the U.S. Academic research fleet.  I should add that neither, to my knowledge, does NOAA as they typically have less variety between cruises and don’t generally require the flexibility.  I should also add that this feature adds quite a bit of both cost and weight to our ships. Constructing them on exact 2′ centers with only 1/16″ of tolerance while still maintaining a 6000 pounds force rating has its trade offs.

Questions about decks? Comments? Please feel free to comment here. Also, remember to subscribe (on the left), if you’d like to receive these posts in your email.

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We’re off to a good start!

I’ve had several requests from the community to find a way to get the word out as to what’s happening with the construction of the RCRV’s.  Good suggestion, I thought, so I’m hereby starting this blog series that I’ll use to pass along updates and issues as they arise. Feel free to post comments or questions and I’ll do my best to respond.  Needless to say, inappropriate comments will not see the light of day, but I won’t censor constructive criticism.  We’ll see how this goes…

So, after a thorough and lengthy selection process, we’re on contract with Gulf Island Shipyard in Houma, LA to construct the first of what will hopefully be three great ships for the NSF and U.S. ocean science community.   We’re currently in the process of establishing OSU’s shipyard office on site.  The staff have been itching to get started for a long time, so it feels great to be making progress towards getting the keel laid. If all goes as planned, we hope to see that occur next spring.

In the meantime, the shipyard staff and Gulf Island will be working together (with our engineers from The Glosten Associates hereafter referred to as “Glosten”) to take our bid-ready ship design and turn it into a production ready package.  This process, called “Design Verification and Transfer” or DVT,  is where we verify Glosten’s design, make any tweaks as necessary to make it work for the shipyard construction processes, and then transfer it from Glosten to the shipyard (and its engineering team from Gibbs and Cox Marine Solutions, hereafter called “Gibbs and Cox”).  They’ll be going through every aspect of the ship from stem to stern, looking at every pipe and deck fitting; it’s a very detailed and lengthy process. And although it will take months to go through everything, it will save time in the end by minimizing re-work.  Think of the adage: Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.  We’re doing our prior preparation here…

One science-related issue that’s recently been discussed has to do with how the vessel will support sediment coring activities at sea. The RCRV program is currently working with OSU’s Marine Sediment Sampling Group (MARSSAM) to ensure that our new ships will be able to fully support obtaining cores from the ocean bottom of up to 50′ long. We’re working on an innovative solution that will be able to take advantage of the ship’s double articulated stern A-frame to bring them safely on board. Stay tuned for more on that as it develops.

Ok.  That’s good for the opening salvo into the blog-o-sphere.  I’ll try to get one of these posted every week or as interesting issues arise. Stay tuned!  /d

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