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Marechal Electric – The Aquatic experience

03 May 2013

Laying undersea lines for oil and gas, renewable energy and telecoms means that Aquatic’s crews and equipment often have to face storm-force gales and even hurricanes whilst at sea. 

Generally, the crews will work up to a sea state of 2.4-3 metre swells but, by hurricane force 10, the ships will either head to port or hope that the electrical connectors on the deck-based tensioners and modular drive systems can withstand the extreme conditions.

The electrical connectors that Aquatic had been using were not able to take the strain; the contacts and rigid pins inside the electrical connectors on the tensioner and drive systems would become corroded or bent/broken and each failure would mean expensive downtime as thousands of pounds worth of equipment would sit idle until a new plug could be fitted.

There were other problems too. Even routine connections and disconnections were time-consuming as the crew had to align a lug and then screw the plug into the socket whilst standing on a rolling deck. Typically, every time a plug was inserted into a socket it would take a full thirty seconds to complete the connection and make it watertight, even without the constant risk of cross-threading the screw. Disconnection also took time as the plug had to be unscrewed from the socket.

There had to be a more reliable and cost-effective system of connecting the cables from the tensioner and reeling systems to the control cabins and hydraulic power units.

Electrical Manager, Brian McRitchie, explains, “We were looking for a connection system which would cut down the connection and disconnection times and also give us a far longer life-cycle by withstanding the extreme offshore environment. A fast lead-time was also important as the extended lead-time of the existing connectors meant carrying enough spares to be certain of having a replacement available when a connector started to show signs of electrical problems due to contamination by salt water or continued use.”

Aquatic brought their electrical challenges to Marechal Electric. With decades of experience in manufacturing electrical connectors for use in industrial, marine and explosive environments, Marechal suggested replacing the existing connectors with their DSN and PN12C multi-contact DECONTACTOR plugs and socket outlets. These connectors use a patented technology which enables each plug to be connected securely into a socket outlet in just 5 seconds. In addition to cutting the connection time for each plug and socket by 80%, the Marechal connectors also totally eliminate the risk of cross-threading. They also provide instant sealing to IP66/IP67 with no additional action required by the crew to make the connection water-tight.

Disconnection is even faster, with a single press of the quick-release button on top of the DECONTACTOR. This activates an internal load-break switch which disconnects and isolates the power in a single action, even if the cable is under load.

“As an independent supplier of carousels, modular powered drive and tensioner systems, worldwide, Aquatic’s equipment is hired out for projects lasting from a couple of days to a few months,” explains McRitchie. “The faster connection and disconnection times provided by the Marechal plugs and socket outlets mean that we get more profitable operating time and less set-up and tear-down time between projects.”

Another important factor is the inherent reliability and robustness of the Marechal DECONTACTORs. With silver butt contacts, a glass-reinforced polyester (GRP) housing and IP66/IP67 sealing when connected or disconnected, they offer a far longer life-span for around the same unit cost, to reduce overall maintenance and operational costs. They can also be manufactured to Aquatic’s own configuration of contacts for power or control signals on a lead-time of just eight days. Together, these factors mean that Aquatic only has to carry a minimal spares inventory and buy fewer connectors, which is good for profitability as well as for the environment.

Aquatic has already fitted around 200 DECONTACTOR plug and socket outlets and plans to replace all of their existing connectors with either Marechal DSN24C, DSN37C or PN12C multi-contact connectors. Used to connect tensioners and drive systems to the control cabins and hydraulic power units, each multi-contact DECONTACTOR supplies both power and control signals via a single connector. The DSN24C and DSN37C offer up to 24 and 37 contacts respectively and are rated for 5A current and 415V supply. The PN12C handles current up to 10A and a 500V supply. All offer IP66/IP67 sealing against water and dust as standard.

McRitchie concludes, “The combination of faster connection and disconnection times, a longer life-span and shorter delivery times, for around the same unit cost, means that fitting Marechal DECONTACTORs provides Aquatic with significant operational advantages for no additional outlay.”

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