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Photo: Zenitel © 2021 – Thomas Aas

Retrofitting vessels for the future

Installation of innovative components or systems is driven by the need to upgrade to higher performance, as well as adhering to more cost-effective standards. Retrofitting is becoming a common practice both in the maritime and energy industry involving the entire value chain, while exploring possibilities on a continued basis for installations such as the iconic Research Vessel (RV) Polarstern.

Onboard retrofitting of a legend Research Vessel

The RV Polarstern, operated by the Alfred Wegener  Institute,  has completed nearly 300 important scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic since 1982. In 2018 the vessel was retrofitted, with a state-of-the-art boiler control system, equipped with an online interface which can be evaluated or serviced remotely. Later, a new retrofit was utilized, which included the installation of two sets of shaft generator systems, assembly of shaft generators inside the vessel, project management, and construction engineering; all adding to the ship's capabilities.

Although the RV Polarstern has been in service for over 35 years, it can still fully function, very effectively, thanks to the up-to-date technology and recent retrofitting of the entire onboard communication system. Modernizing both the IP-based PAGA system, and the Zenitel intercom system, the vessel can return to research the Arctic region during the year and continue to investigate the effects of climate change.

SMK-Elektrotechnik with its 50 years of experience in ship internal communication equipment was responsible for upgrading and installing the internal communications system onboard the RV Polarstern. The retrofit was completed at the Lloyd Werft in Bremerhaven Germany and was supervised by a Zenitel service engineer for the installation of the new Exigo PAGA System which re-uses existing cabling through Zenitel’s Flowire technology.

The old analogue intercom system was replaced by Zenitel’s new and highly scalable ICX AlphaCom System and the Talk Back system was upgraded to the latest CIS Talk Back system from Zenitel’s Phontech product range. As a final touch, the ITCS Hospital and Refrigerator Alarm was installed with an interface for the ICX AlphaCom system.


Photo: Alfred Wegener Institut/Mario Hoppmann

Cost-effective partnership

Regardless of size, many vessels undergo a mid-life retrofit, which is performed in a dry dock or a port harbor. Each ship-owner has their own individual requests, which they consider important when searching for the best retrofit partner. Meanwhile, it is highly recommended to choose a partner with unique proven skills and experience, when it comes to IP based Internal Communications solutions.

Even though it seems tempting not to retrofit an older analogue intercom system when the system is still working well on a daily basis, it is more effective to go through a retrofitting. This is since upgrading the vessel is not only about hull efficiency, engine modernization, and reduction of emissions.

Ship-owners who have neglected IP system optimization face the problem of the lack of spare parts or system failures as old technology is getting harder to support in today's fast moving IoT (Internet of Things) world.

The benefit of Flowire Technology

In today’s IoT world, technology is moving fast, and the use of IP is becoming more of the commonly used standard in the merchant marine and offshore energy segments. Today requests for onboard communication solutions are often specified with an interface between systems. However, the retrofit of vessels or offshore energy installations can be extremely expensive, especially if cabling also must be replaced.

This is where Zenitel’s Flowire Technology provides a huge advantage. The Flowire converter enables both IP communication and power to run over the same two wire cables, hence allowing upgrade to IP based devices with PoE powering while reusing existing cabling.

The Flowire technology consequently provides a cost-efficient solution for upgrading, i.e., analog communication and CCTV systems to IP. The Flowire converter can also support IP communication over significantly longer cable hauls compared to traditional ethernet cabling.

Zenitel offers IP technology on their PAGA systems, intercom & PABX systems, CCTV systems, IPTV systems and wireless technology such as two-way radio and DECT. Interfacing between these systems means that action in one system can trigger action in another system – for example an emergency call from a compartment can trigger the CCTV camera to display a feed from that compartment, or you can use your radio to broadcast alarms or call directly from the bridge to a specific radio or radio group, opening up more efficient use of systems.

Retrofitting the old internal communications systems and reusing the existing cable network by using Flowire Technology, Zenitel offers an effective extended lifetime and significant technological, sustainable and economic benefits, to vessels where it is employed.