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Port Engineers of Tomorrow

Once considered as solely advisors, Port Engineers must now, not only understand but, enforce the many requirements associated with managing the repair and sustainment of an organization’s maritime assets.

14 April 2015

Coastal Infrastructure

Port Engineers of Tomorrow

This will include surface preparation and preservation, dry-dock evolutions and safety, propulsion system alignment and welding processes and procedures etc.  Taking a particular project from cradle to grave and becoming the single point of contact is no simple feat, therefore it is vital that today’s Port Engineers are properly equipped with the necessary skills. 

The United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) recent modernization program saw such a step change in the role of their Port Engineers.  In order to better equip them with the necessary skills, the USCG turned to BMT Designers & Planners, a subsidiary of BMT Group Ltd.

Charlie Marino, Maintenance Analyst at BMT Designers & Planners, discusses the diverse skills Port Engineers require.  He also highlights the bespoke training approach undertaken for USCG, ensuring that they are able to meet the challenges and in turn, help to maximise the organization’s investments. 

Recent reorganizational changes within USCG have led to significant modifications in the way its Port Engineers (PE’s) operate. In 2009, the USCG made the strategic decision to change its structure under its ‘Modernization’ model. Within this model the organization set up Product Lines placing types of ships/vessels into specific categories. The Product Line then quickly became the single point of contact providing accountability for system support, right from introduction to retirement.

Each Product Line now has three discrete branches, the first of which is the Engineering Branch that responds to technical service requests, develops and maintains all maintenance procedures, preserves asset configuration data, approves all parts for use and conducts reliability analyses. Secondly, the Supply Branch concerns itself primarily with supporting the budgetary and supply management needs for the asset, including spare parts provisioning and procurement services. 

The final branch is the Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) Branch which concentrates on planning and managing all depot maintenance activities, including dockside and drydock availabilities at both organic and commercial shipyards.  It is within the PDM Branch that USCG’s PE’s role now sits, working as a direct representative between the Product Line and the vessels they are responsible for. PE's now have to deliver all planning and execution of depot level maintenance for each vessel that is assigned to them. 

Prior to the modernization program, PE’s were involved with maintenance planning albeit at a far lesser extent than is required under the new organization. The diversity of the skillset needed to perform as a PE in the USCG is certainly noteworthy.  Firstly, the PE's are required to perform complete hull, mechanical, and electrical (HM&E) assessments on each of their assigned vessels. Although the manner in which these complex assessments are completed is the same, the intervals of the assessments are in different periodicities dependant on the type of vessels each Product Line is responsible for.

It is also the job of the PE to continually assess the work required on each vessel assigned. This includes work identified by the individual vessel’s Chief Engineer, any work generated by engineering changes to upgrade systems and all scheduled maintenance items. This is where the PE will be expected to work with the PDM Branch in order to develop the vessels work packages, both dockside and drydock.

Being the primary contact between the contractor performing the maintenance work, the USCG Contracting Officer and the PDM Branch, a significant part of the PE’s role is to manage the overall maintenance project effectively.  Ensuring all processes are followed during repair availabilities and providing detailed reports is vital. 

The USCG quickly recognized that individuals carrying out the new range of PE duties needed additional training and no current program could provide all the different skill sets required. In an effort to develop a bespoke Port Engineer Training Course (PETC) that had both a curriculum as diverse as the skills required and the ability to complete practical hands-on exercises in support of learning the required skills, the USCG approached BMT Designers & Planners. 

Drawing on years of experience, BMT has developed a unique training programme helping to prepare today’s PEs to meet changing requirements.  Delivered over four weeks, the course includes key areas such as:

  • Operator, engineering, contracting and shipyard organizations
  • Preparing for a maintenance period
  • Engineering administration including contract workbook database and logistics support systems
  • Fundamentals of project management
  • Weld inspections and non-destructive testing
  • Dry-docking
  • Propulsion system alignment
  • National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) corrosion inspector program level 1 certification training
  • Warranty administration and contract close-out

It was often the case that the USCG would assign people to position by virtue of rank, not necessarily related experience. Consequently, PE’s within the USCG could be a Junior Officer, mid-level enlisted person or senior enlisted person with diverse backgrounds. Therefore, without sufficient training it would take many, many years to obtain the necessary experience in order to carry out the responsibilities now required of a Port Engineer.

Prior to this course being developed, the USCG’s approach to training their PE’s was fragmented and often they would only ever receive ad-hoc training on the job, or their Naval Engineering Support Unit may have sent them to a commercial school to be taught in one specific area such as welding.  Through this training program, PE’s can now better understand the overall structure of the USCG and how they fit within the organization. 

The training also helps PE’s to overcome the operational challenges they may face in their day to day role.  Without the right type of training PE’s may find it difficult to address questions such as how to assess what needs to be done and when to do it, as well as knowing what work to schedule when.  Providing the information needed to determine what work to perform when, whilst always considering time and budget and managing risk within the project is an integral part of the training programme delivered by BMT.  We instruct on the type of work that should be accomplished to a vessel in drydock, directly comparing that to the type of work that should be accomplished dockside.

Another challenge for the PE might involve how to deal with a contractor that isn’t performing as expected or that may not be familiar with the references detailed in the specification. The training provides the tools to better understand and interpret any references within the specification to avoid any miscommunication. 

As we continue to face uncertain economic times ahead, the shipping industry is looking at ways of ensuring its maritime assets are well protected.  PE’s now play a significant role in providing accountability which in turn, will allow for improvements to be made in the completion of maintenance and availability work, on time and within budget.  Training its PE’s to the standard now required has given the USCG the opportunity to reap those benefits – the question is will other organisations follow suit?

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