‘Hydraulics is pioneering’
“This active heave compensation (AHC) hoisting system is one of the biggest systems we have built to date,” says Bert Knol, hydraulic specialist at IHC Motion Control & Automation. “The customer relied on our expertise and know-how to provide them with a reliable system for deep-water lowering and retrieval. They had some specifications such as the required force, the working depth and the velocity, but it was our job to develop the perfect solution.”
The customer will be using the system to lower objects to a depth of up to 3,000 metres. The sheer size, in combination with the short delivery time, posed quite a challenge. Bert: “We had designed and constructed similar systems, but never on this scale. Large parts usually have a long delivery time, which meant that we had to order the components for the system almost immediately after the contract was signed. Therefore, we didn’t have a lot of time to make design choices.”
Years of experience
Luckily, Bert isn’t new to building AHC systems and large hydraulic setups. He can draw on over thirty years of experience in hydraulics to turn these types of projects into a successful system well within schedule. “I started this job in 1981 and the experience definitely comes in handy in cases such as this one,” he says.
As a hydraulic specialist, Bert is responsible for the technical design of the hydraulics system. “You can compare the hydraulics in the AHC system to the hydraulics in the tailgate of your car,” he explains. “A gas spring takes some of the load, so that you can open and close your boot with little effort. What you don’t want, however, is for the spring to be too powerful – or you might end up getting smacked in the face by the tailgate! I make sure everything is tuned correctly.”
In addition to the design, Bert also provides the functional description for the system. “I answer questions such as: when should the system be activated during the lowering process? How can we make the transition as smooth as possible? What can we do to prevent the system being activated in unsuitable conditions? And what happens when, for instance, the cable snaps? I translate the answers into a functional description for the system. Therefore, I work closely with our R&D and programming teams.”
“The great thing about hydraulics is that it is still a relatively uncharted area of expertise,” Bert concludes. “There isn’t that much technical research performed in this field, so at times it really is pioneering work. It’s very satisfying to see that the design choices we made at the start of the project eventually come together nicely into a great working system. And the systems are different every time, so even after many years I still get challenged every day.”