Driven by technology

CJR’s managing director, Mark Russell, discusses how CJR’s ten-year strategy is progressing and the difference its investments have already made.

If you’d asked me eight years ago to predict where CJR would be in 2017, my response wouldn’t have come close to encapsulating the journey the business has been through. Back then, in 2009, the world was still very much in the throes of a global recession and, after several years of growth, the marine industry was starting to contract. Orders were being cancelled or postponed, yards were disappearing and prices were being driven down. We knew we had a quality product but we needed to create a bigger point of difference between ourselves and our competitors if we were to prosper.

It was around this time that we made the decision to reposition the business – to put a metaphorical stake in the ground and say: ‘CJR Propulsion will be the world’s most technologically advanced propulsion specialist’. We will be the experts, dedicated to offering advanced design and manufacturing capabilities, and backed by technical understanding and detailed analysis, not simply experience and a ‘good eye’. We wanted to be unrivalled in the marketplace. It was an easy thing to say but a much harder idea to truly accomplish.

Not long after this realisation, and full of optimism for CJR’s future, we met with the University of Southampton’s Fluid Structure Interactions Research Department to discuss how we could form a partnership to utilise Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) in our design and manufacturing process.

The basic premise of CFD involves using numerical methods and algorithms to perform the complex calculations required to simulate and understand the interactions between a vessel’s hull, its appendages and the water. But those calculations involve literally millions of equations and it’s not something you can do half-heartedly. Our entry into CFD was certainly no half measure. Within 12 months we had a dedicated, in-house CFD department, with a super computer developed and built in-house, and our own bespoke software to enable us to analyse and solve challenges relating to fluid flows. Today, CFD is central to our business, enabling us to predict the non-uniform ow into the propeller plane. Without this, it is impossible to design and optimise the propeller accurately. We have carved a reputation as one of the best in the world through our understanding and experience in CFD, and CJR is the only propulsion business to offer such services to its customers in-house.

Following the success of our CFD activity, we reviewed every stage of our design and manufacturing process in order to understand where the latest technology could make a positive difference. Several large investments followed, including a robotic finishing tool, which remains the only one in the UK, and a bespoke ‘ five-axis’ CNC machining centre that makes light work of producing multiple parts in a single set-up. Collectively, these investments – and the trained personnel who operate them – radically improved the performance of our propellers and removed much of the manual finishing requirement, which had been the standard industry approach for over 100 years.

For our customers, these pieces of equipment ensure 100 per cent adherence to the original design, with total repeatability for production vessels. Combined with CFD and you know you have a propulsion set up that has been designed specifically for the vessel in question, using its real hull form to identify the optimal appendage position and to maximise speed, efficiency and longevity, whilst reducing or removing vibration and cavitation.

Next on our list of objectives was finding a way to demonstrate, with certainty, the difference our evidenced- based approach was making on the water. To achieve this, we needed a portable data acquisition system, which allowed stats to be collected, even in rough sea conditions. Existing marine technology relied on on-board instruments but that didn’t tell the whole story and didn’t give us the detail we wanted. As a result, we decided to take a different approach and turned to the technology used to gather flight data from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Another first for the marine industry.

Over a six-month period, we have continued development of the TrialsApp system, using complex algorithms to combine the information it gathers and to provide accurate trim, roll and heading data. The system also allows on-board vibration levels to be measured at a frequency of 500Hz, with data acquired 50 times a second, so it is incredibly accurate. It’s another great example of CJR doing more to add value for our business partners and global customer base and it is now one of our popular services, and several OEMs have bought their own version for day-to-day use. The system is currently in use in the UK, Turkey, Slovenia, Italy and Australia.

Since then, we have added a number of smaller but no less important technology-based tools to our arsenal. The latest portable 3D scanners have made a massive difference in gaining visibility of a hull form on an older vessel where plans are not available. We can travel around the world to take accurate measurements in minutes, straight from the dockside. It also ensures we consider any appendages or modifications that might not appear on the original designs. We can then load the results into our CFD software  so the resulting propulsion system is truly accurate and optimised to the real hull form, not a standard design.

To connect every stage of the design, manufacture and installation process, we have also invested in the latest prototyping tools, including a number of 3D printers that enable us to rapidly and accurately fabricate all new designs direct from our CAD software, in just a few hours. However, a perfect propulsion design still falls down if its installation isn’t properly managed
so, with that in mind, we have also developed bespoke laser alignment and lateral vibration and shaft alignment analysis tools, which completes our end-to-end solution. In our business, accurate propeller shaft alignment is essential to prevent vibration along the shaft and into the engine. Any vibration not only reduces engine efficiency but will, over time, cause engine or gearbox damage and, if left unattended, will eventually cause premature failure.

Due to the long length of propeller shafts – especially on larger superyachts and commercial vessels – manual measurement is difficult, time- consuming and potentially inaccurate. Our bespoke laser alignment tool uses viewing plugs and target plates, so each component can be independently adjusted to ensure precise line of sight is achieved. The tool even calculates the appropriate sag value, using our shaft alignment software, to provide incredibly accurate results and the smoothest ride, with minimal vibration. Equally, our lateral vibration tool is essential to understanding the natural frequency of the shaft under load from the engine, including the propeller forces. This gives an incredibly accurate understanding of any potentially adverse engine operational speeds, which can then be rectified before the vessel goes back in the water.

So, eight years on from the start of our journey, do we feel like we reached our goal? No, not yet, but I don’t think the work will ever be complete. Today, we have a fantastic team – full of talent – and we’re constantly looking at how we can utilise new technology to benefit our customers. Where will be in another ten years? No-one can tell you that for sure but I hope that we will continue to lead, driving the industry forward, making ever-better products that match our changing customers’ needs. And, if we can do that, we will be stronger and well-positioned for the next generation.

We have a fantastic team – full of talent – and we’re constantly looking at how we can utilise new technology to benefit our customers.