[CAT® MARINE] Tugs Today & Tomorrow: A Conversation with Robert Allan, Ltd.

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This is a podcast episode titled, [CAT® MARINE] Tugs Today & Tomorrow: A Conversation with Robert Allan, Ltd.. The summary for this episode is: <p>Naval architect Robert Allan, Ltd. is one of the main players in the global tug industry, designing around 100 vessels built around the world each year. Project manager Allan Turner joins the Cat Power Podcast to talk about how today’s emissions standards – U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final — have affected tug design and how his company worked with Caterpillar to make sure the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system didn’t impact performance or fuel economy. He also weighs in on what’s next for tugs in a reduced-carbon environment.</p>
How Robert Allan Limited got started, and Allan's role
02:40 MIN
How priorities have changed as regulations come in
03:30 MIN
Information on Z drive and Z tech
02:20 MIN
How the operator experience is more comfortable
02:04 MIN
What does the future look like?
02:06 MIN

Sergio Tigera: Welcome to the Cat Power Podcast, where we deliver powerful insights into the world of Cat Marine, showcasing the latest in technological advancements and highlighting the stories of the industry's most dynamic leaders. I'm your host, Sergio Tigera. Now let's get ready to power up with the Cat Power Podcast. Hey everybody and welcome back to the Cat Power Podcast. So good to have you here. You can catch each and every episode on the YouTube Caterpillar Marine channel, as well as Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, or wherever you love to listen to your podcast. You can catch us each episode there. Robert Allan Tugs is here with us today. We got the project manager for that company, Allan Turner. Welcome my friend.

Allan Turner: Yeah, thanks for having me. Glad to be here. Glad to talk with you today, about that.

Sergio Tigera: All right. So Allan, where are you located right now? I'm down in Miami. I think you're on the other side of the continent.

Allan Turner: Yeah. We're based out of Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Sergio Tigera: Fantastic. And.

Allan Turner: So, that's our main office.

Sergio Tigera: Yeah. So Robert Allan Limited is one of the most legendary companies out there in, especially, in the tug industry. So, and you are a proud member of that family. And so it has a long heritage of a lot of success and tremendous influence in the industry. So tell me a little bit about the history of the company. Tell me kind of how it got started and where it is today.

Allan Turner: Sure. So Robert Allan Limited was founded in, around 1930, in Vancouver by the original Robert Allan. He was a one man show for first few years of the business, through the war. And eventually the second Robert Allan joined the company after the war and it sort of slowly grew from there. The third Robert Allan, the most well known, joined in the late seventies, early eighties. And he's the one that sort of really took the company international with some projects for, which are still good clients, Stensja, Ostensjo, out of Norway. That was our, probably, first really big international project. And that sort of got us recognized by more and more international clients. And it's really sort of grown from there to one of the main players in the tug, global tug industry. There's roughly 90 to a hundred tugs of our design built every year through lots of good shipyard partners in Turkey, and China, and Europe, and the U.S.

Sergio Tigera: Well working for a company that you feel a sense of ownership, not only literally, but figuratively as well, is really important. Because you have pride in what you do even more so than if you were working for a company you didn't have ownership in. And so this company has become internationally recognized and is doing some amazing things. So tell me about your role within Robert Allan.

Allan Turner: So I'm a mechanical engineer by education, mechanical engineer, professional engineer. So I'm responsible for the main technical design. Being a mechanical engineer, I'm more related to the sort of marine systems, the engines, anything that spins or makes noise, is the best way to describe it. And then I have counterparts on the naval architect side that, they look after the boat stability and structure, and things like that. So it's a very much a team effort between the two groups to come up with these designs. And, and actually working with our good shipyard and tug clients, they have lots of good ideas too. So it's really a good collaboration between all involved.

Sergio Tigera: So you mentioned things that spin and make noise that's usually tied to engines, right. And engines are tied to NOx particulates, and performance, and so forth. So you're at the heart of the beast so to speak, right?

Allan Turner: Yeah. Yeah.

Sergio Tigera: And as the industry has changed over time, regulations come in and things get tougher, right. Standards are harder to meet and so forth. And so how are you seeing that change in the industry? Where are you guys now in terms of how you need to think? What are the priorities? What are the things that operators are asking for and companies are asking for these days?

Allan Turner: Yeah. So definitely, emissions, that came in. Roughly it really started 10 years ago and it certainly built. And now it's almost streamlined. It's not really that big of a concern. We know how to deal with it, so. But the emission sort of took care of NOx, and particulates, and hydrocarbon. But the new thing that is this starting to build is carbon reduction for sort of global greenhouse carbon gas emissions. So, the next big thing in our industry is sort of alternative powering options, whether that be fuels or electrification, battery, and then how the diesel engine works in with that. I don't foresee the diesel engine going anywhere. It'll be around for time to come. So, it's really this looking at ways of reducing that sort of greenhouse gas footprint for these vessels. It's crosstalk

Sergio Tigera: So that was when, crosstalk

Allan Turner: Inaudible. crosstalk

Sergio Tigera: When tier four came in. And so what were the biggest issues that were concerning you guys when you said, okay, we got to start putting in these tier four engines in there. What are some of the biggest issues with that?

Allan Turner: The main concern back then was, we didn't really know what this thing called the SCR looked like. And what and how it would fit in our vessel? How it would work? We're a little concerned about the, would it have any impact on performance of the vessel because the ability of a tug to react to a situation, in terms of engine acceleration, is pretty critical for their operations, especially as when they're operating escort tugs. So things like that. That was a concern. And probably the big concern was the space and fitting it. And we'd seen some early designs where they had been fit with SCRs. And the vessel is basically all funnel because the SCRs been located in the funnel, and then that sort of blocks the site lines of a tug. So it's very important on tugs the operator can see all the way around himself. He's not obstructed by physical barriers, so they can, when they're maneuvering in tight spots. So that was a very critical concern going forward. And, how they would work with silencers and our mufflers, and maintain our noise and sound isolation in the vessel, which has also become pretty critical for crew comfort and things like that. So, there's a lot of things that were just unknown, and we were interested in seeing how it would affect our designs.

Sergio Tigera: Yeah. As a new technology is brought in, obviously it's very important to work hand in hand with companies like you, right? Tell people a little bit about SCR. What does it mean? What does it do? And what was your role with Caterpillar as you guys were combining forces to develop the right solution?

Allan Turner: Looking this up, I believe it was 2011 or 2012, Cat set around a letter to various naval architects in North America saying, this is coming, we'd like your feedback and thoughts on it. And, so we took that to heart, and they gave us some early information package of sort of what the SCR would look like, it's sort of sizes and dimensions. And so we, within Robert Allan, we took that and looked at how it, we did some sort of basic concept work with our existing tug designs, how it would work, what configurations worked the best. And then I believe we did send the information to Cat, and then their engineering team did a sort of a circuit around the North America visiting all the naval architects, and they came to us. We had a good meeting with them, and we had arranged to go and visit one of the local Seaspan tugs. It was a recent delivery from one of our Turkish ship yards. So it was sort of one of the more latest events design, so we could show them, physically, what the challenge was. From that we came up with some good ideas of what configurations worked the best, particularly for tugs. And yeah, it sort of went from there.

Sergio Tigera: That's fantastic. And some of the technology that you guys have obviously used quite a bit with the Z drive and Z tech, tell me a little bit about that.

Allan Turner: Yeah. So in terms of Z drive, pulsonsan or asthma thruster, that's pretty much a 99% of our tug designs have that. So it's basically a rotatable propeller pod, on, there's normally two of them in the stern of the tug. So it's sort of the most common tug propulsion. And the Z tech is one of our designs that was, start, developed in around 2004 or five. And it's primarily for import, terminal operations where it sort of takes the best features of what's commonly referred to as a tractor tug, in the industry, and as a stern drive tug and combine them together to, to provide a, sorry, a tug that's ideally suited for harbor operations working under the flare of large car carriers, container ships, naval vessels. So it's just, and the wheelhouse is set a bit further af from the main fender. So that allows it to get under the flare of these big vessels. And just the hull configuration allows sort of better ship handling in these tight spaces. There's good visibility around the tugs. So, it was a very unique design and it's been widely accepted in a lot of the big ports in the world. They're widely used in the port of Singapore, in our, whatever, good U. S. clients in port of Houston. There's almost, I think they're almost up to 30 of them operating around the port of Houston and Gulf of Mexico. And then the U. S. Navy has about 10 or so of them operating at various naval bases. And, yeah, so it's been a very successful design for us. And the operators that use them, they love them, so.

Sergio Tigera: And as you, as you, as you, as the technology changes and progresses, and you get more power, and then fewer missions, fewer NOx, and fuel savings as well, there's design changes that need to happen to where the engine compartment is because of the additional SCR, right? And how does that affect that space design, and when you're thinking about that? Tell me about that process.

Allan Turner: Yeah. So definitely one of the things that worked quite out, worked out quite well from our original design meeting with Cat was this, the configuration or the basic idea of the SCR was to be able to make at least to 90 degree, but preferably 180 degree turn within the SCR. So this, that sort of one design feature so far has allowed us to fit it in our tug designs without significant redesign issues. So we've had a few designs where maybe the deck house has to be a bit higher, or the final casing is a bit wider or something, but overall the design impacts on the tug have been manageable, particularly for the Cat solution. A lot of them were putting them in sort of the, what we call the deck head area. So above the engines. So there tends to be quite a bit of height in the engine room there. So then we're using primarily the U flow configuration. So stick it in the deck head and it sort of comes up, and then circles back and then goes up the funnel. So, so far it's worked out very well for the designs in the sort of size range that they're available for.

Sergio Tigera: And the great thing about it is that it's completely separated from the engine. And so there's no change to the engine per se, in terms of reliability and power when you need it. Right? Because that's probably the most, one of the most important things that you can ask for as an operator, is reliability. And when you need the power, it's there. There's no compromise in terms of how the engine's running. You're not changing anything inside. It's all kind of afterwards.

Allan Turner: Yeah, definitely. Even if you did have a fault within the SCR system, this engine's still there to run. It's very important for tugs because they are essentially a safety device themselves for large ships. So, you don't want to have a vessel go down for some minor fault. So it does sort of improve overall harbor safety, you could say.

Sergio Tigera: You mentioned earlier the experience for the operators as well, in terms of sound, not only NOx particulates, right. But now they want to be a bit more comfortable and they want to.

Allan Turner: Yeah.

Sergio Tigera: It's not as rough of a ride and as a life as it used to be. Right? And how important is that to operators?

Allan Turner: Yeah. So that's become very important in terms of this resiliently mounting all the mains or reciprocating machinery in the vessel, taking care of the sort of noise or sound levels out of the exhaust system like that. Because if you notice inaudible of all tugs, the exhaust stacks are almost always right by the wheelhouse. So that the operators there. So, it's very important design aspect as well, so. And it's a lot easier on the cruise to op or work on a vessel that's quieter. You don't get as tired. They're more alert for longer. And it's crew retention is also, also a big thing. So you want comfortable vessels for your crew so you can retain them and avoid sort of labor shortages.

Sergio Tigera: Especially nowadays, right. Is that industry also experiencing what we're experiencing in all industries where there's a shortage of skilled labor?

Allan Turner: Yeah, that's my general understanding. But I believe it was a problem before the pandemic as well. So I'm sure that's exacerbated the situation. Probably depends where they, what tug operator you are talking about in what part of the world, but yeah.

Sergio Tigera: What about the issue with the DEF supply? Are you able, are your customers able to get what they need?

Allan Turner: Yeah. We've never heard of a significant issue with that because the missions regulations, marine sort of lags a little bit behind maybe construction equipment or on highway. So they sort of come in first and the DEF supply is figured out for them. And then marine, it's really just a case of this has to be delivered to a dock instead of a fuel station or something. So yeah, as far as we understand it hasn't been a significant issue for any of our clients.

Sergio Tigera: So what does the next 90 years look like? You guys have come 90 years now, and maybe you can't forecast the 90 out, but what's on the horizon in terms of the industry? What do you see happening?

Allan Turner: Yeah. Definitely the big thing will be decarbonisation of the vessels, and how to do that with alternative fuels or electrification, battery power, or working with diesel and electrical to come up with designs that this eventually meet the zero carbon con or goal of many countries. So that's sort of starting right now. That's the big topic in the industry and yeah. We'll see how it goes, but it's exciting times, definitely, for mechanical engineer because that's our sort of bread and butter of design, it's all these systems that propel the vessel. So yeah, it'll be interesting at least next 20 years anyway.

Sergio Tigera: Well, it's great to see you guys partnering up with Caterpillar on this effort. And I think it's providing a lot of great benefits to a lot of organizations worldwide, and just the industry in general and moving it forward together. And that's the way to do it. So, Allan congratulations on all your success and all the designs that you've helped create, and you see them out there working in the water. That's fantastic. And congratulations to the entire Robert Allan Limited team who have done some amazing work over the last 90 years, and best of luck for the next 90.

Allan Turner: Yeah. Thanks a lot. And yeah, Caterpillar's been a very good partner to work with. We're sort of independent firm, but we work with all suppliers. So Cat's been very supportive with technology and technical information transfer. And it's, I think it's been mutually beneficial to both Cat and us. So, it's a good partnership to keep going.

Sergio Tigera: Fantastic. All right Allan. Thanks for being on the Cat Power Podcast, and we'll catch you guys next time. Be sure to hit the subscribe button. If you loved this and share it with a friend who needs to see it or hear it. Thanks guys. And until next time signing off.


Naval architect Robert Allan, Ltd. is one of the main players in the global tug industry, designing around 100 vessels built around the world each year. Project manager Allan Turner joins the Cat Power Podcast to talk about how today’s emissions standards – U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final — have affected tug design and how his company worked with Caterpillar to make sure the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system didn’t impact performance or fuel economy. He also weighs in on what’s next for tugs in a reduced-carbon environment.