Challenges of Rack Integration for Demanding Marine Applications
Enabling commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment to operate reliable in hostile marine environments presents significant challenges. Areas including IP-rating, shock and vibration protection, crew safety, cabling compliance, operational temperature, structural integrity and operational life, to name just a few, require special attention. But when the challenges are overcome and issues are carefully balanced, the rewards can be invaluable.
Racks are typically either fixed directly to the structure of the ship or indirectly through the use of shock and isolation mounts. The fixing method is largely dependent on the vessel design, application and the robustness of the equipment being used. One of the many unique challenges this presents is that COTS hardware is not designed for this environment and excludes provision for front only access for fitting or maintenance. As such, some form of carrier or adaptation is required to mount commercial hardware into more demanding applications.
For retrofit and even fresh builds, there are also issues with access routes, thresholds and the ability to traverse the route in order to reach the final point of installation. Stories are abound of racks being unceremoniously cut in half and then welded (or bolted) back together, and holes being cut into the decks or sides of ships to allow installation. This adds risk, cost and unnecessary delay to complex projects.
For many applications, solutions become hybrids of market-specific and COTS content. To provide the functionality, performance and reliability needed within the budget available, it will be necessary to perform engineering modifications.
When you combine this optimisation with the complexities of the installation and operating environment, what on paper seems like a simple exercise quickly becomes something far more exhaustive. This is down to supply chain management, compliance pressures and continuity concerns throughout project durations.
Unfortunately, the level of complexity is not always apparent from the outset. Many customers I speak to have already learnt difficult and costly lessons from suffering unpredictable erratic and premature hardware failure. This manifests itself in extensions of cost and time, as well as damage to brand.
Providing these services with the appropriate level of diligence requires considerable experience, time and resource. Given the rate of advancement in the commercial technology sector, maintaining a stable platform and advantage can be highly challenging to say the least.
Where internal resources are stretched, projects can become at risk. Entering into a strategic partnership with a supplier that can support your needs, achieve compliance and provide the cohesion required to minimise risk, maintain budget alignment, and maximise cost efficiency is almost always beneficial.
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