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02.08.2018 | Neuigkeiten

A Future-Oriented Automation Platform

Ulstein's X-Connect, a future automation platform, allows its users to work smarter and more efficiently.


(Source Ulstein)

Ulstein Blue Ctrl AS, Ulstein Group’s newest subsidiary company, is part of the group’s initiative on ship automation and digitalisation. Ulstein Blue Ctrl AS has its origins in Ulstein Power & Control AS, which started out developing alarm monitoring systems for the maritime industry. A few years back, they decided it was time to develop something new: a more future-proof automation platform. After an initial period of mood boards, brainstorm sessions, and research, they came up with a wish list and a clearer vision of the product they wanted to develop. 

A Future in Software

In a business oriented on hardware-based technology, Ulstein started to believe that the future in automation systems was not in hardware but in software. They envisioned a single system, a single tool that would allow them to configure everything that interacts with external systems on board.
The company decided that its new automation platform should be based on open source software, and that its application and further development should also be entirely open. The enterprise discussed ideas with different companies, searching for a hardware supply partner that could help bring it to life. Ulstein had two decisive criteria for manufacturers, which were that the individual components were certified to IEC 60945 or could be easily certified, and that the supplier could provide a PC-based controller that allowed simple data exchange with its software. Ulstein found this unique combination at Bachmann. In terms of technology and software, Bachmann is often a step ahead of the competition. Using Bachmann’s M1 controller as a basis, Ulstein created an automation platform that can integrate any number of function units and can be adapted to special customer requirements. The platform was named Ulstein X-Connect.

Scalability

Ulstein X-Connect is a universal digital platform for marine automation, control, and monitoring, combining high-performance software and hardware. The platform became the back-bone architecture of Ulstein’s new automation system.
There is a lot of equipment on board a ship. Most of the equipment is either interfaced or controlled from the Ulstein Automation System. Both smaller and larger systems, such as thrusters or engines, are easier to configure into an X-Connect application. As soon as it is connected to the X-Connect network, the network knows what it is, where it is located, and whether it is ready for use. 

X-Connect was designed with larger ships in mind, as Ulstein mainly builds larger vessels. But since the platform is set up very flexibly, it can be adapted to meet the requirements for most segments and for vessels of any size. Since its launch in 2017, the system has been installed among others on rock installation vessels, where it processes data from 5,000 IOs, as well as on tugboats with a mere 300 IOs providing data. Installation on a cruise ship commences in August, further proving the platform’s scalability. 

Single Segmented Platform

X-Connect is one single platform, but it is segmented. It is divided into different control segments for propulsion, machinery, navigation, alarm systems, ballast system, and so on. The data that these segments provide is available on the operator stations through a modern graphical user interface, where each component alarm and signal can be monitored and controlled.

The modular and distributed architecture of Ulstein X-Connect enables efficient process handling. By dividing the system into different segments, reliability is increased, and redundancy requirements are met. Each system segment is autonomous and can be added or removed.