Forensic Engineering

~ a useful resource for vessel owners, OEMs, lawyers, insurers, accident investigators or anyone else looking to get to the root of a maritime problem ~

When things go wrong in the maritime environment the consequences can be catastrophic. It behoves those involved to establish what went wrong and why? Not just because situations go legal with often protracted, costly battles. But also, to learn lessons, prevent recurrence and design better in the future.

The truth, however, is not always obvious.

The good news is that the laws of maths and physics don’t lend themselves readily to spin and blame. An objective truth exists. Illustrating this to high levels of probability is increasingly feasible with today’s computer processing power, software sophistication and analytical simulations.

Houlder’s Forensic Engineering brings to bear the latest in finite element analysis (FEA), hydrodynamics, resistance, seakeeping and roll predictions. We can shine fresh light on the evidence and highlight likely root causes of the most complex situations at sea including mechanical and structural failures, manoeuvrability and asset underperformance. Think of it as data-driven hindsight.

We can look retrospectively at collisions or assess the exposure profiles for fatigue damage assessment. We can also develop accurate structural models of damage after an incident using 3D scanning. Real time performance data can be gathered through vessel monitoring.

The insights we provide can prove invaluable to moving the debate on from what people reckon to what happened and why.

The following examples give insight into the methods and tools which we deploy to identify the most probable root cause.

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Drydocking damage

A significant dent was discovered on the ship underside which likely occurred during dry docking. The vessel owner was keen to establish the cause.

Houlder undertook a non-linear plastic analysis localised around the part of the vessel in question. The analysis forced the dock block into the steel hull causing permanent deformation of the structure. The force to cause the indentation was measured from the simulations. We then performed stability work to see how plausible such a load was in a standard drydocking situation.

Results conclusively showed there was excessive load, outside of typical drydocking procedure.

Offshore equipment damage

Equipment malfunction is nearly always an acute issue for OEMs. The reputational risk is huge and they typically need to find out fast. It can prove helpful to have access to external, independent specialists to complement in-house capabilities. Houlder’s Forensic Engineering offers just such a discreet service.

One manufacturer of sophisticated cleantech equipment was being let down by excessive damage around a jointed part of their equipment.

The prime suspects were cyclic loading, shock load (dynamic amplification) or equipment malfunction.

Houlder undertook nonlinear plastic analysis over repeated cycles to determine the build-up of permanent deformation of the parts. This was conducted at different levels of load to determine if the witnessed damage was likely to occur under normal operations or if the part was exposed to loads outside of its design.

Excessive Riser Casing Wear

In this case, we explored the working hypothesis of a vessel owner prior to further action. They suspected an offset of the drill rig was causing the riser casing to wear out much quicker than anticipated through extra contact pressure between the riser with its casing. This was happening at the point where the whole thing transits into the seabed.

Houlder undertook a wear rate analysis, with the assistance of a tribologist (‘friction guru’). We assessed the expected wear rates for various vessel positions. The work was done in Orcaflex to simulate the contact pressure accurately. We concluded based on first-principle calculations and tribology expertise. The outcome was then used by the client in their root cause analysis and mediation and arbitration processes.

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"Harnessing tech to find objective truths can prove invaluable which makes our team one to keep on your side."

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Mark Goalen, Chief Operating Officer