Training: the key requirement for optimum scrubber performance

Scrubber supplier Yara Marine has formally opened the Yara Marine Training Academy to provide training for engineers, deck officers and shore staff to achieve optimal scrubber performance

The Norwegian company has delivered over 300 SOx scrubber systems to customers in all major shipping sectors, with millions of operating hours logged. The company states it only uses premium corrosion-resistant alloys in its scrubbers to ensure long life. Cheaper steel corrodes much faster and this is the philosophy it applies to training.

Training has traditionally been given by experts on site when a scrubber is installed. But the process has now been formalised in a modular package offered by newly created Yara Marine Training Academy. Successive modules cover system design and function, governing documents, operation, maintenance and troubleshooting.

Yara Marine technical trainer Ulf Johansson said, “Customers can operate and maintain the scrubber system in an optimised way when they have the right knowledge and skills.” He said, “Training enhances not only our in-person relationship with customers, but also builds customer satisfaction in the long term.”

Training can take place at customer sites, at Yara Marine’s offices in Gothenburg, or online in a virtual classroom. Modules can be tailored by the training team according to requirements. Flexibility is key. “Our focus is on developing and offering different learning methods for different target groups in different situations,” added Mr Johansson.

While Covid-19 travel restrictions remain in place, some customers are using online training to ensure best practice. “It makes good sense at the moment because crews will have to deal with any issues that arise themselves. It is difficult for our engineers to fly out to the ship,” said Yara Marine research & development engineer Pekka Pohjanen.

In his opinion, training should be seen as an investment that will pay off. Well-trained crew who understand the system and regulatory issues will increase the lifetime of the machinery, reduce opex, and, crucially, lower the risk of non-compliance.

Training during installation while a ship is in drydock typically involves 2nd engineers and 3rd engineers in a very busy environment. “They do their best to take everything in, but there are a lot of other things happening at the same time,” said Mr Pohjanen. “Remembering everything the training covers in those circumstances is a big ask,” he said.

“The classroom setting is much better. We can walk participants through the material having their full attention,” said Mr Pohjanen, “We also encourage chief engineers, chief mates and even masters to do the training, so they have first-hand awareness.”

This extensive approach to training is especially relevant if the commissioning crew leave the ship while the system is still relatively new, leaving a knowledge gap that needs to be filled.

“Targeted training also lightens the burden on the crew,” said Mr Pohjanen, “Environmental technology like scrubbers and ballast-water treatment means more work,” he said. But it is necessary as the industry moves to a greener base.

Most scrubbers are open loop and pretty straightforward. “Customers do their best to follow basic maintenance procedures either from the system manual or from the ship’s planned maintenance system if our recommended maintenance has been incorporated,” said Mr Pohjanen.

Full system functionality, sensor failure and equipment malfunctions are all covered. “Sometimes current crew can’t find the info they need in the manual. Basic training would solve that,” Mr Pohjanen said.

Yara Marine scrubbers are self-monitoring and self-recording, but as a large device it typically contains 40 sensors. “The largest systems are moving well over 1,000 m3/hour of water through the ship, and as with any system it is a challenge to maintain capacity 24/7,” said Mr Pohjanen.

As the system is designed for continuous operation, it is essential sensors perform optimally. If non-critical alarms go unheeded, there will be a critical alarm and the scrubber will eventually shut itself down. Robust training can help to prevent that scenario.

Most unexpected problems training can mitigate are to do with compliance. “Crew often do not understand the regulatory background. It is not their job to know it in detail, but knowing the basics helps,” said Mr Pohjanen.

Technical superintendents onshore may also not have the answers, which is a strong case for putting them through the training too.

“We present the regulations for different regions in a simplified way that is much easier to understand than the original documents, which tend to be very technical,” said Mr Pohjanen.

Training can also prevent scrubber downtime should the crew misread or misunderstand the regulations. Alarms go off automatically if the system is non-compliant or there is a malfunction. “Crews of course have the MEPC.1/Circ.883 IMO circular, which when interpreted correctly can lead to savings. Sometimes people switch to compliant fuel as the safe option. But it is fine to continue to use HFO with the scrubber; that is what it is there for,” said Mr Pohjanen. “Switching to compliant fuel through misplaced concern is a cost that can be avoided with specific training.”

Conversely, there is the risk that crew do not appreciate the consequences of an alarm. The alarm may remain on and nothing is done, or there may be failure to order a spare part because the problem was not seen as critical. “The worst case is if the crew has been unaware the ship is out of compliance, which could result in fines or even detention by port state control,” said Mr Pohjanen.

Troubleshooting in the classroom focuses on critical problems based on past cases. “Additional basic training is a win-win for all parties,” Pekka Pohjanen said. “One of our customers has trained 600 crew members. That kind of proactive approach means they get the best out of their system, the crew are confident on compliance, and the company will save money in the long run.”