Keep Calm and Carry On: Data Driven GE Motors to Steer High-Tech Drillship through North Sea Storms

May 2, 2013

Days after the Queen Mary 2 left Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage to New York in April 2004, the world’s fastest and longest passenger ship hit a wall of fierce North Atlantic storms. Waves “as tall as a 20-story building” slammed against the upper decks and left ocean liner “bobbing through seas so rough that cabin doors slammed and drinks were flung from the well-polished bars,” according to The New York Times.

The Queen Mary 2 carried on through the bad weather, not unusual for this patch of the ocean, propelled, in part, by a pair of GE gas turbines and electrical motors. It arrived safely in New York just one day behind schedule.

Now a sister marine technology to the QM2 motors will labor in the same frigid waters. It will power a rugged, semi-submersible “ultra deep-water” drilling platform called the West Mira bound for North Sea swells off the coast Greenland and Canada.

Full Fathom Five: GE’s marine propulsion technology will help hold the West Mira deep sea drilling rig steady in frigid North Atlantic swells.

Like the QM2, the West Mira will be a record-breaking vessel. The deep water drilling company Seadrill, which ordered the rig, says the West Mira will be one of the most technically accomplished semi-submersible platforms in the world. It will be capable of drilling wells 40,000 feet deep beneath 10,000 feet of water.

Engineers from GE Power Conversion designed a system of connected power generators, drives, and propulsion systems that will listen to data from the rig’s electronic brain and positioning system, and hold the West Mira steady and on target.

Similar GE technology will also serve on a fleet of 22 new Petrobras drillships and rigs that will drill wells as deep as 7,000 feet below the sea 180 miles off the coast of Brazil. Those vessels will come with a crack GE “dynamic positioning system,” or DP, that can keep them within a 15-foot radius on the swells.

The DP applies sophisticated mathematical modeling software that blends location information with wind speed and ocean current data. The DP brain then calculates commands for a system of “intelligent” thrusters, propeller motors, electricity generators and other equipment similar to the West Mira gear that help keep the vessels in the right place.

“When you are drilling, you need to stay where you are,” says Paul English, marine vertical leader at GE’s Power Conversion business. “Coming off the wellhead because you’ve lost position could be a very expensive and very risky process.”