An industry expert is predicting that the offshore wind industry will very soon demand electronic monitoring of the whereabouts of all personnel at all times.

Keeping track of personnel on board (POB) “will be a requirement on all contracts” with offshore energy companies, predicts Tonny Sørdal, vice-president for quality, safety, health and environment of support vessel operator Olympic Subsea ASA.

He was speaking just a year after one of its customers first asked for that capability and now, seven of the company’s 10 vessels have been fitted with a system that not only tracks crew and contractors while they are on board, but also as they transfer from the vessel to wind turbines and even within the turbine itself. Its other three vessels will get the system once the market improves and they return to service, Mr Sørdal said.

That first customer was BP Trinidad and the first vessel to be fitted was Olympic Orion, a 93.8m multipurpose offshore vessel built in 2012. And the tracking system Olympic Subsea installed was ConnectPOB, developed by Norwegian company ScanReach.

ScanReach spent five years developing technology that can establish a wireless mesh of nodes throughout a vessel that avoids installing cables. ConnectPOB makes use of that mesh to keep track of where people are and, after a year of in-service experience, Mr Sørdal views it as an essential part of Olympic Subsea’s safety and operational management.

Installation was a simple ‘plug and play’ experience, he said, which was done in Trinidad, with the vessel immediately going back into service. A second vessel, the 115.4m multifunctional subsea support and construction vessel Olympic Ares was retrofitted in February 2020 prior to a job in Mexico for which monitoring 200 people was a requirement and five more vessels followed during the rest of last year.

On one of those, Mr Sørdal installed all the nodes himself in just six hours. It would be even quicker now, he said, not only because of the experience gained during installations across the fleet but also because ScanReach has refined the installation process so that each node is scanned to link it into the network, rather than having its unique code manually entered.

Olympic Subsea works in the windfarm maintenance sector, in which many of its clients’ technicians are housed on board and are transferred via a gangway to wind turbines on which they work inside the structure.

Each person has a wearable sensor which communicates with the mesh nodes on the ship and a count of those who transfer via the vessel’s gangway to a turbine is automatically created. Battery-powered nodes can also be easily fitted to the turbine – typically five at different heights inside and two outside, ScanReach’s chief business development officer Jacob Grieg Eide said – so that workers can be tracked even while they are off the vessel itself.

Those nodes can be left on the turbine for use during future visits and the mesh can effectively extend across an entire wind farm if the turbines are no more than about 2-3km apart. Wearable sensors could then be detected at up to about 50-100m from any node across the entire farm.

Mr Eide estimated that Olympic Subsea is as much as 2-3 years ahead of its competition because of the benefits that ScanReach has brought to its POB management efficiency and automatic reporting, as well as improved safety.

Mr Sørdal is looking forward to other functionality becoming available, such as fall detection, man-overboard alerts, gas, temperature and environmental monitoring.

This makes it more than just a technical tool; it also has a business benefit and customers are impressed about how the system works and what it can do, Mr Sørdal said. In the future, “we will see this kind of system in all kinds of installations,” he predicted.

By Jake Frith