Gulf Coast Air & Hydraulics Inc. of Mobile, Alabama, USA, specializes in the fabrication of air, hydraulic and electric products and services for the heavy industrial and marine markets. Founded in 1985, Gulf Coast began the marine portion of its business designing and building engine control and steering systems for tugboats.
Gulf Coast has historically provided hydraulic bow and stern thruster systems for ocean-going vessels and has expanded its offerings to include electric thrusters powered by motors and variable speed drives (VSD) to improve their performance and service. Electric versions of the thruster systems are safer, require less maintenance, run quieter and are more environmentally friendly. In addition, they are easier to install, cheaper to operate and more efficient. The greatest benefit of the electric thrusters, however, is how smoothly they interface and respond to sophisticated dynamic positioning (DP) systems.
A DP system is an automatic operational mode that, when engaged, simultaneously and continuously controls a ship’s bow thrusters, main propulsion system and rudders to hold the vessel in place, no matter the wind, current or wave action. DPs are commonly used on oil rig supply ships, where a precise level of control is essential to keep the vessel from striking a floating oil rig, and potentially moving it off its mark, causing major damage. ABB’s Baldor-Reliance® RPM AC motors provide the power to Gulf Coast’s thrusters.
RPM AC is the ultimate in torque density and variable speed capabilities. The ability of the RPM AC motor to execute rapid accelerations and decelerations with consistent torque simplifies the positioning process, and the low inertia aspects of the motor provide excellent control throughout the entire speed range, from 2 rpm to 1,800 rpm, allowing highly efficient acceleration, deceleration and full reversals, reducing generator load and increasing the overall performance of the system. RPM AC has repeatedly proven its ability to run smoothly and rapidly under the most demanding conditions.
“In the DP application, the variable speed drive will typically be ramping from 1,000 rpm in one direction to 1,000 rpm in the other direction in less than 10 seconds - a full reversal in less than 10 seconds,” said Mike Mitchell, ABB District Sales Manager. “You can’t do that consistently with a standard induction motor and a standard scaler-type VSD; they just can’t take the abuse.”
One of Gulf Coast’s major application partners is Master Boat Builders in nearby Bayou La Batre, Alabama, designers and manufacturers of offshore supply, fishing and dive support vessels. The company started in 1979, initially building fishing boats, before expanding into small offshore supply vessels. Since 2000, the company has focused primarily on supply vessels, each year expanding its build size capability. With an emphasis on technical sophistication, quality and durability, its ships can travel in open seas anywhere on the globe. In the mid-2000s, Master Boat approached Gulf Coast with the idea to build a boat with electric thrusters and asked if the company was willing to learn the new technology. Gulf Coast agreed, and with the help of ABB, has become the exclusive supplier of Master Boat’s electric thruster systems.
Master Boat, Gulf Coast and ABB frequently collaborate to solve complex challenges and deliver solutions that can keep up with the ever-evolving demands for more power, performance and efficiency while retaining space allotment constraints. Master Boat cultivated its oil rig supply boat business, in large part, by being one of the first builders to transition from hydraulic to electric thrusters, and ABB’s Baldor-Reliance RPM AC motors have been integral components of Master Boat thrusters since the early stages of the transition because they are able to withstand the harsh marine environment and the tremendous demands of the DP system.