When a global pandemic engulfed the world two years ago, the task of building a state-of-the-art lab to perform quality checks on ships would be a daunting task.
The laboratory, based in the UK, has been operational for 18 months and offers state-of-the-art testing facilities for a wide range of industries, including the maritime industry. Despite the difficulties of setting up this sophisticated service during a global pandemic, maritime and energy services consultancy Brookes Bell launched the service in January 2021. It offers an independent laboratory with facilities for testing and advanced inspection facilities, a modern laboratory, engineering workshop space, flexible space for training centers and offices.
The laboratory provides materials testing, fuel testing and analysis, and non-destructive testing services across multiple industries.
“Setting up the site was always going to be arduous with the constant shutdowns, logistical issues and general unpredictability,” said lab manager Caroline Young.
“An important milestone was the UKAS accreditation we received in May, confirming our technical competence as an independent laboratory service, accredited to ISO 17025.”
The lab plans to only continue its industry-leading accreditations and the home of forensic investigation has come a long way in such a short time. Although they have been around for less than two years, clients are already turning to The Lab for assistance with various disputes.
“Our new clients can be assured that our services are independent and fully compliant with international regulatory standards,” added Young.
Keeping a ship moving and safe without impairing the operation of the ship’s machinery due to poor quality fuel oil or improperly purified fuel oil is essential to prevent further upheaval. Fuel issues can lead to groundings, collisions, pollution and even wrecks, and resolving fuel disputes helps maintain high standards.
The test facility has conducted numerous investigations in which poor quality fuel has caused serious damage to machinery and vessel infrastructure.
Since the site opened last year, demand for fuel analysis services has grown steadily. At the lab, expert chemists investigate fuel specification issues and provide detailed data to support fuel-related claims.
The ability to test fuel to industry standard ISO 8217 is therefore essential, and the facility has introduced more complex investigative analysis methods. These include tests for Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS), Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP), Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIS) and Karl Fischer titration.
Businesses are increasingly concerned about engine and component failures, which often lead to complex, time-consuming and costly litigation. Therefore, precise and successful resolutions as quickly as possible are increasingly sought after. The laboratory’s fuel testing and analysis capabilities provide precisely that, using its team of scientists and experts, as well as state-of-the-art equipment.
Ubiquitous Metals Review
Fuel isn’t the only source of turmoil for industry insiders, however. The robustness of the material that makes up the majority of a vessel has become a central priority, especially amid the global trend towards sustainably sourced building materials.
Metallurgical investigations are among the core capabilities of the Lab. This process takes place using digital microscope equipment, scanning electron microscope, handheld laser induced beam spectroscopy (LIBS), positive material identification (PMI) and the Olympus DSX-1000 industrial grade digital optical microscope.
Materials scientists identify how a component or structure should react in a specific environment or under a certain mechanical weight. This knowledge makes it easier to investigate corrosion or component failures.
Electromagnetic testing and ultrasonic examination techniques are also performed by the lab’s non-destructive testing (NDT) team for various critical structures and components. The condition of the metal structures through the composite decks can then be observed and welding-related defects identified.
Tools such as Pulsed Eddy Current Array (PECA) can reveal the condition of metal structures through composite bridges, thick lagging and coatings. No exterior material needs to be removed to perform this form of testing on cruise ships, superyachts and ro-ro/passenger vessels, even if the vessel is in service, docked or at sea anywhere in the world.
Review capability extends beyond PECA. For example, advanced eddy current (ECA) probes allow The Lab teams to examine all welding defects such as surface fracture cracks on a range of shapes, even if the surface conditions are dirty, coated or abrasive.
The team can then build accurate digital twins by combining data acquisition, analysis and reporting software, and evaluated inspection data. As a result, Corrosion Mapping Models (CMAPs) can be created for vessels approaching drydock refit, intermediate or special class survey, saving time and cost by simplifying the expedition planning.
Train newcomers to the industry
As many industries, including the maritime industry, face severe skills shortages, The Lab is looking to expand its highly skilled workforce.
In January, The Lab hired ten new employees in highly specialized functions. Additionally, it has revamped its toolbox with new state-of-the-art equipment and a range of fresh and innovative investigative services.
Five of the new roles relate to non-destructive testing. Two are graduate apprentices and one is an engineering apprentice.
As the industry faces skills shortages, these newcomers will simultaneously study for their NDT Level 3 qualifications and ISO 9712 PCN Level 2 certification in basic and complex testing methods.
These apprentices will simultaneously study for their NDT Level 3 qualifications and ISO 9712 PCN Level 2 certification in basic and complex testing methods.
The focus on new talent demonstrates the Lab’s foresight and recognition of the critical expertise required for any future conflict resolution.
“In just one year, The Lab has allowed us to develop many new and innovative investigation and investigation services,” said Ken Kirby, Director of Metallurgy, Inspection and NDT. “Even with all the significant restrictions and challenges associated with the global pandemic, we have achieved solid growth, expanded the team and are clearly demonstrating to our customers, stakeholders and the wider industry just what a facility like this can offer, the sky really is the limit.”
For more information, please visit The Lab online at: https://thelab.brookesbell.com/
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.