Home AssociationsIMarEST Best Practice shared to good effect at inaugural marine electrical and control systems safety conference

Best Practice shared to good effect at inaugural marine electrical and control systems safety conference

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squareThe inaugural Marine Electrical and Control Systems Safety Conference (MECSS 2013) organised by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) and held in Amsterdam earlier this month (October) attracted delegates from Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and UK who found themselves at the forefront of thinking on key topics that will ensure greater safety at sea.

MECSS 2013 was set against the background of ships becoming increasingly dependent on complex electronic equipment and electrical power systems, with incidence of engine failure and blackouts increasing. Held at the Marine Establishment Amsterdam, with the theme ‘Delivering integrated, dependable, safe and reliable systems’ it was the first controls and electrical safety conference of its kind.

The conference brought together system and international equipment suppliers with class societies and operators who presented solutions, shared best practice and debated just how the marine industry can be made safer and more reliable using software and electrical technology.

The two-day event was deemed by the engineers and stakeholders who attended to have addressed ‘a wide range of topics that need to be recognised and taken forward by the marine engineering community’; and to be ‘relevant’, ‘thought-provoking’. It had ‘excellent presentations of a high level’, was ‘useful for reflection and adaption into my role’ and adjudged overall to be ‘great to see the community coming together to discuss important safety aspects’.

The venue too met with praise ‘a great location’, and so too were the networking opportunities not only during the day at the conference but at the conference reception at the National Maritime Museum. CSMART – Center for Simulator Maritime Training – also arranged an industrial visit to their facility following MECSS 2013, as a key to effective training.

With sessions on Electrical, control and software safety management (chaired by Phil White, Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd); System design supporting safe systems (chaired by Emma Harrison, GSE Systems Ltd); Training and awareness (chaired by I/O(SE) Mark Royston-Tonks RFA, Ministry of Defence, UK); and Technology (chaired by Bernard Twomey, Lloyd’s Register), MECSS 2013 got off to a flying start with a keynote address by Rear Admiral Nick Lambert CMarTech FIMarEST.

“His address was splendidly apt for this conference, was immensely thought provoking and absolutely brilliantly presented, ” says Kevin Daffey, Chairman of MECSS 2013. “It was prescient in making some of the points being addressed by the technical papers that were to follow.”

Lessons learned

“Making people at sea safer lay at the heart of all we discussed, ” explains Kevin Daffey. “We were delighted by the number of delegates and their reactions to this inaugural event, and much appreciate all that our Dutch hosts did to make us so welcome. Like one of our delegates who talked of the benefit of the conference which provided ‘an opportunity to take two days out of the office to think and learn’ I also did much thinking over the course of the event and noted some of the major themes that arose – interestingly most of them related to people, and look forward to opportunities to expand on all of them:

  • We need to account for the change in thinking and expectations of the new generation of young people coming into our industry. These ‘digital natives’ could have a profound impact not only on operators, but also maintainers and importantly designers
  • The perennial topic of ‘Qualification and Experience’ – something that came out passionately in session questions and conversations during networking. Training has been revolutionised by software, gaming theory and our evolving knowledge on human behaviour. We can choose to tune people’s competence anywhere on the scale between proficient to mastery through clever use of Virtual Reality training. IMarEST with its commitment to continuing professional development can play a key role here
  • The procurement framework of our marine industry is fragmented – the opportunity to get the requirements wrong and design systems that are not as safe as they could be is high. System integrators are emerging however many shipyards see the integration role as their value added service, and there is pressure on costs to remain competitive. However, cost appears to override through-life safe operations
  • The interface between people and machines came up many times
  • It was really great to see so many organisations keen to share best practice
  • That leads me to ‘standards and rules’ – an area with complaints in plenty about inadequate or incomplete rules, but also in the knowledge that it can be the ‘specifier’ who is lacking in knowledge of how to apply standards or rules. Ours is a risk-based industry and ALARP (As Low As Reasonably Practicable) decisions that could be termed ‘best practice’ and rapidly adopted as good or normal practice within a year or so regardless of whether rules or standards are kept up
  • Arc flash remains a big debating point in land-based systems. In MECCS 2013 we provided a marine-specific forum for this hazard to be explored, discussed and mitigation technology proposed to help ameliorate the catastrophic effect.

“So what do all these themes shout out at me? ‘Requirements!’  As we go into a design process the key ingredient that feeds the design are the requirements.  If the requirements are wrong or incomplete, the resultant mixture that comes out of the design oven will be a mess and possibly leave a bad taste.  Like a customer in a restaurant, if the meal is bad, you are unlikely to come back.  What we are poor at in many industries is eliciting the right requirements and this means what is supplied is either incomplete, imperfect or even worse is wrong and potentially dangerous.

“I don’t profess to have all the solutions for getting these requirement right but I think one of our MECSS 2013 speakers, Dr Erik Styhr Petersen was onto something with his proposal for making human/system interfaces better.  So I would propose that a better world will come when we can:

  • First – Ensure that designers have the correct competence such as human factors and behavioural sciences;
  • Secondly – There are forums for operators and maintainers to share their experiences of using equipment on ships so designers can hear, see and understand the frustrations and propose better ways.  Maybe professional Societies could facilitate these types of discussions – in many ways this conference is one step in this journey;
  • Thirdly – We need educators to update graduate or technology courses with the right core competences so designers have the basics in human factors, safety, IT, engineering, etc;
  • Fourth – Regulators and class should create rules or goal based targets that help coerce the industry to address these human aspects.

“However, it doesn’t address the framework of marine procurement which puts cost at the heart of decision making over absolute safety and reliability.  But maybe if we get the people right we can work on the procurement framework.

“From all my comments I think it is clear that we had an extraordinarily stimulating two days. I would like to thank speakers and delegates for a truly inspirational time in Amsterdam; and look forward to a future MECSS when we can explore the subject more.”

Obtaining the proceedings

The MECSS 2013 technical papers are available for purchase, at a cost of £150 for IMarEST Members and £180 to non-members; please contact events@imarest.org for further details.


MECSS 2013 was sponsored by Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd and supported by InterManager, Marine Safety Forum, ONR, Safety4Sea and Trinity House.

MECSS Technical Advisory Committee

  • Kevin Daffey, Rolls-Royce plc (Chairman);
  • Dr Campbell Booth, University of Strathclyde;
  • Dr Gopinath Chandroth, Marine Accident Investigation Branch;
  • Nick Cowper, Aircraft Carrier Alliance;
  • Andrew Edmondson, BAE Systems – Submarines;
  • Duncan Gould, Disney Cruise Line;
  • Emma Harrison, GSE Systems Ltd;
  • Jamie McCarthy, Rolls-Royce plc;
  • Kees Posthumus, Defence Materiel Organisation, the Netherlands;
  • Jeremy Richardson, Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Limited;
  • 1/O(SE) Mark Royston-Tonks RFA, Ministry of Defence, UK;
  • Bernard Twomey, Lloyd’s Register;
  • Richard Vie, Carnival Corporation & plc;
  • Phil White, Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd;
  • Shaun White, BP Shipping Limited

About the IMarEST

The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) is the leading international membership body and learned society for all marine professionals. The IMarEST is the first Institute to bring together marine engineers, scientists and technologists into one international multi-disciplinary professional body. It is the largest marine organisation of its kind with a worldwide membership of 15, 000 based in over 100 countries.

Working with the global marine community, the IMarEST promotes the scientific development of marine engineering, science and technology, providing opportunities for the exchange of ideas and practices and upholding the status, standards and expertise of marine professionals worldwide.

The IMarEST is a respected authority in every maritime country. It is a Non-Governmental Organisation with consultative status at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), observer status at the International Oceanographic Commission, and it has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC), which facilitates its access to other international intergovernmental meetings where its specialized marine expertise is of particular use, e.g., the United Nations meetings on Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and the work of the International Seabed Authority on marine mining. It is a nominated and licensed body of the Engineering Council (UK), a member of the Science Council and has significant links with many other maritime organisations worldwide.

IMarEST also runs a series of industry leading events and conferences as well as publishing internationally recognised titles: Marine Engineers Review (MER); Shipping World and Shipbuilder; Maritime IT and Electronics; Marine Scientist; and Offshore Technology.

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