The Delightful Frustration of Cruise Ship Power Plant Design

Last year I was contacted by the Philadelphia Section papers chairman of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who asked if I could make a presentation at a joint ASME, SNAME, SAME section meeting in Philadelphia on January 24, 2017.

I told him that, in principle, I would love to do that, but wondered what subject he was interested in. He thought that a presentation on cruise ship power plants might be of interest to the membership of the various societies that might be attending.

In our quick discussion I mentioned that this subject is a book size subject and what part of it would be of interest, and he indicated that a more general discussion would be fun. Without thinking about it much further I agreed, but after putting down the phone I became a little worried.

A “general” discussion on cruise ship powering is like having a “general” discussion on western civilization. Where do you start and end? So very soon thereafter I wrote an outline and, while it touched on too many subjects, I just let it rest hoping there would be further inspiration closer to the due date or that the issue would be resolved through last minute perspiration.

Remarkably, the solution did not come through inspiration, but rather through stupid luck (the most satisfying kind). In September last year, a new engineer, Kyle Antonini, joined our staff. Kyle is a mechanical engineering and engineering physics graduate from University of Michigan, and put in a few years at Schlumberger in challenging places around the world before joining us.

After joining us, I simply handed him the outline and asked him to fill the story in behind it and provide me with running updates. This was a remarkably fruitful exercise on a number of levels. The exercise allowed us to have a rapid mind meld on cruise ship powering and also allowed Kyle’s independent research on the subject to alert me to some misconceptions that I had developed over the years (One of which related to my belief that the first purpose built cruise ships appeared after WWII, but the first true cruise ship actually was the 1900 built Prinzeccin Victoria Luise, wiki picture above).

Since Kyle had done most of the work, and I would do the presentation, I needed a test run, so we had a pizza lunch in the office conference room and while my partners and collegues ate, I ran through the presentation on the projector. I had made mention of EEDI in my outline, but was not aware that EEDI also applied to passenger vessels. Fortunately we all have huge, but non-identical, stores of technical knowledge in the firm and a few of my collegues quickly corrected me, and promised to brief me with the proper documents after lunch. This resulted in an interesting deviation in cruise ship EEDI and this issue made it into the presentation correctly.

I never expected that the audience would enjoy a “general” presentation on the agony of designing cruise power plants as much as they did, but we were asked to provide copies of the presentation and the presentation can be downloaded here.

The whole exercise provided a few valuable reminders:

1.  Ship design is hell, which makes it so much fun

2.  Knowledge is transferred by doing, not by telling

3.  Both my father and my grandfather had a weird way of being very relaxed about the march of technology, and I wondered how they kept up to date, because, when the chips were down, they were never flustered. But meanwhile, too often, I heard them say: “Yeah, we’ll have the next generation do that job; they are supposed to be the improved version anyway.” They were right, but that can only happen if you give the next generation the opportunities to become the improved version.

4.  If you share your information you will also discover where your information lacks accuracy

5.  Information is shared through technical societies. Don’t forget to show up and share.