The shipping industry is one of the most important in the entire world. Without the ability to transport large quantities of goods around the world, whole countries could collapse. In this article we will look at what part precision machining plays in this vital, global industry.
Precision machining in the ports
Precision made parts are essential in the loading and unloading of huge container ships. As containers grow in size and weight, cranes must also grow in size to be able to deal with the increase in demand. Central to this is the technology used in the crane’s winch. Here, CNC machined parts are essential to ensure winches can be constructed to high operational tolerances, with the torque and horsepower required to lift vast weights.
To make winches stronger, precision machining is used to ensure that the electric motors that power the winch have the durability to be put under immense loads around the clock, with minimal maintenance required. It would be unacceptable for a winch in a port to require regular maintenance, as this would mean there would be a delay in loading or unloading ships. Winches in cranes at ports therefore use precision parts made to high tolerance levels which are designed specifically to need as little servicing as possible.
Uses On Container Ships
Every ship sailing currently uses parts made using precision machining methods. Most commonly, these parts are found in the engine bay. A recent trend employed by shipping firms as a way to reduce fuel consumption across their fleet is to use ‘slow steaming’. This is when ships sale as slow as 15 knots, rather than the usual 20 to 30 knots, in an effort to reduce fuel consumption. Unfortunately, while a sound theory, typical ship’s engines are designed to be most powerful and efficient at maximum power. This is because the average ship designed twenty or thirty years ago was never expected to travel lower than maximum speed, other than when docking. The effect of slow steaming as a result is lower fuel consumption at the expense of higher maintenance costs, because the components in the engine were not designed to operate at slower speeds.
The solution is to replace engine components including cam shafts, pistons and push rods with redesigned parts, crafted using precision machining. These parts are designed on computers and made with CNC engineering and are specifically designed to tolerate the different frequency of vibrations and levels of engine wear found when engines are running at a lower RPM (revolutions per minute). In addition to these revised parts, the engine management system can be tuned to improve fuel consumption and torque at lower speeds, much like a car tuner would do in their garage. Finally, the gearing of the engine can be changed with a revised gearbox that optimises the rotation of the ship’s screws in relation to the engine’s speed, meaning less energy is wasted and more energy is used to push the ship forward. The result is that CNC machining actually helps reduce shipping costs, and therefore lower prices for end consumers like us.