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AB

The International Marine


Contractors Association

Review of the
Use of the Fan Beam
Laser System for
Dynamic Positioning

IMCA M 131
www.imca-int.com September 1995
AB
The International Marine Contractors Association
(IMCA) is the international trade association
representing offshore, marine and underwater
engineering companies.

IMCA promotes improvements in quality, health, safety,


environmental and technical standards through the publication
of information notes, codes of practice and by other
appropriate means.

Members are self-regulating through the adoption of IMCA


guidelines as appropriate. They commit to act as responsible
members by following relevant guidelines and being willing to be
audited against compliance with them by their clients.

There are two core committees that relate to all members:


Safety, Environment & Legislation
Training, Certification & Personnel Competence

The Association is organised through four distinct divisions,


each covering a specific area of members interests: Diving,
Marine, Offshore Survey, Remote Systems & ROV.

There are also four regional sections which facilitate work on


issues affecting members in their local geographic area
Americas Deepwater, Asia-Pacific, Europe & Africa and Middle
East & India.

IMCA M 131

The Marine Division is concerned with all aspects of specialist


vessel operations. Key aspects of its work include an annual
seminar, in particular focusing on practical experience, annual
reports on DP station keeping incidents, also incorporated in an
electronic database available to members of the division,
industry-leading guidelines for the design and operation of
dynamically positioned vessels and a wealth of in-depth technical
reports on a range of related issues.

www.imca-int.com/marine

The information contained herein is given for guidance only and endeavours to
reflect best industry practice. For the avoidance of doubt no legal liability shall
attach to any guidance and/or recommendation and/or statement herein contained.
Use of the Fan Beam Laser System Contents

CONTENTS

1 INTRODUCTION ...............................................................................................2
1.1 Purpose of Report................................................................................................ 2
1.2 Principle of Operation ......................................................................................... 2

2 SYSTEM DESCRIPTION ..................................................................................3


2.1 Laser.................................................................................................................... 3
2.2 Scanner................................................................................................................ 3
2.3 Universal Display Unit (UDU) ........................................................................... 3
2.4 Control and Drive Electronics............................................................................. 5
2.5 Power Supply ...................................................................................................... 5
2.6 Target .................................................................................................................. 5
2.7 DP Interface ........................................................................................................ 5

3 INSTALLATION ................................................................................................6
3.1 Scanner and Laser ............................................................................................... 6
3.2 Universal Display Unit........................................................................................ 6
3.3 Target .................................................................................................................. 6
3.4 Cables.................................................................................................................. 6
3.5 Maintenance ........................................................................................................ 6

4 SYSTEM ASSESSMENT ...................................................................................7


4.1 Advantages.......................................................................................................... 7
4.2 Disadvantages ..................................................................................................... 7
4.3 Operational Experience....................................................................................... 7

5 TECHNICAL SPECIFICANON........................................................................9

6 FAILURE MODES............................................................................................10

7 CONCLUSIONS................................................................................................11

IMCA M 131 Page 1


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System Introduction

1 INTRODUCTION

1.1 Purpose of Report

This report has been prepared by Global Maritime for IMCA to provide a review
of the fan beam system, particularly for members that are considering using this
system. A description is provided along with installation requirements. The
advantages and disadvantages of the system are also considered along with
likely failure modes. Operational experience has been drawn upon from
operators with the fan beam system, as well as from MDL, the supplier.
MDL has co-operated with the research for this report, providing technical
information and checking the reports contents.

1.2 Principle of Operation

The system uses the principle of laser range finding by measuring the time taken
for a pulse of laser light from the laser source to the target and back again, and
hence deduce the range of the target.

The disadvantage of using a traditional narrow beam laser is that the laser has to
be accurately pointed at the target. This makes automatic tracking difficult,
especially when the laser is to be mounted on a moving vessel.

The fan beam system overcomes this problem by using special laser optics that
provide a laser beam in a 20 degree vertical fan. By scanning this fan
horizontally in a controlled manner a fixed target can be tracked from a moving
vessel and its range and bearing determined.

The system comprises a laser unit to measure the range, a scanner unit to scan
the laser and measure the bearing of the target, and a universal display unit that
controls the system. A 24V DC power supply is used and a passive reflective
target for the fan beam laser system track.

1.3 Range and Accuracy

In principle the maximum range is 2000 metres in ideal weather conditions.


The range accuracy is 20 cm, the accuracy of the bearing is 0.02 degrees, and its
resolution is 0.01 degrees. The operating range for DP is more than likely to be
200 metres because the bearing has to be measured from the vessel and the gyro
accuracy and resolution affects the overall accuracy and repeatability. This is
discussed later in the report.

IMCA M 131 Page 2


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System System Description

2 SYSTEM DESCRIPTION

A diagram of the fan beam system is shown in Figure 1 overleaf and photographs of the
system can also be seen in a leaflet included at the back of this report.

2.1 Laser

The fan beam laser is produced by an array of gallium arsenide semiconductor


laser diodes. These, in combination with some special optics, produce a laser
with a 20 degree vertical fan and a horizontal divergence of less than 4
milli-radians (0.229). The laser is pulsed at a rate of 5000 pulses per
second (Hz). The light pulses are collimated (adjusted for line of sight) and
emitted through a transmitter lens. Altogether this produces a vertically
diverging but horizontally parallel laser beam. Received light reflected back is
received through the receiver lens, then it hits an array of photo sensitive diodes,
arranged in a parabola. These diodes produce an electrical signal when light
above a certain level hits them. By timing the turn around time of the
transmitted and received pulse and multiplying by the speed of light the range
can be found. As the system is firing pulses of light at 5000 Hz a target will
register a number of returns which are then averaged to improve the accuracy.

2.2 Scanner

The scanner part of the system scans the laser in the horizontal plane. Control of
this is by a stepper motor, and the angle of the laser is measured by an encoder.
Thus when a target is scanned its angle can be measured. Knowing the range of
the target from the laser and the bearing from the scanner allows the exact
position of the target to be calculated.

The laser assembly mounts on a stainless steel shaft that protrudes from the
scanner through a water tight seal. A double seal is used that can be greased
from a grease nipple on the top of the scanner. The shaft is driven by the stepper
motor through a reduction gear and precision worm and wheel which gives a
resolution of 0.01. The angular position of the laser is measured by a high
accuracy optical encoder that is mounted directly on the lasers shaft. The whole
assembly allows measurement of horizontal angle to a resolution of 0.01 and an
accuracy of 0.02.

Electrical connections between the scanner and the laser are passed through slip
rings. The scanning speed is programmable and can be set to be between 0 to
50 per second through a settable arc. If the scanner is moving at less than
3 degrees per second then the laser is turned off. This means it is always off
when it reaches the end of a scan, this makes it impossible for anyone to view
the laser directly for anything more than a few moments.

2.3 Universal Display Unit (UDU)

The UDU is a hand held keyboard and display that allows the manual operation
of the scanner head, and provides a display of range and bearing.
Communication between the UDU and the scanner is by serial current loop.
This allows the UDU to be positioned up to 1000 metres away from the scanner.
IMCA M 131 Page 3
Use of the Fan Beam Laser System System Description

A serial RS 232 port is provided for the connection of external equipment,


e.g. DP control system. The display is LCD but it does not have back lighting
for night vision. The UDU is sealed and fitted with a U bracket for mounting.

IMCA M 131 Page 4


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System System Description

2.4 Control and Drive Electronics

There are three circuit boards in the scanner: a motherboard, a stepper board and
a control board.
The mother board provides the connection between all the wiring and the
interconnection of the other two boards.
The stepper board performs two functions. It takes the 24V DC power
supply and provides regulated power supplies: 5V for logic circuits and 14V
for the laser. It also drives the stepper motor in accordance with the
commands from the control board.

2.5 Power Supply

The fan beam system on the vessel requires a nominal 24V DC power supply
and consumes up to 3.5 amps. It can operate with a voltage in the range 22V
to 30V. A sealed power supply can be supplied with the fan beam system or a
separate vessel supply can be used. On recovery from power loss the system
needs to be set up again via the UDU. The target is passive and does not require
a power supply.

2.6 Target

It is important for the successful operation of the fan beam system that good
quality targets are used. There are two main types of target: reflective tape and
retro prisms.

The target recommended for DP applications is an aluminium tube covered in


reflective tape. Other types of target can be used, for instance a few inches of
reflective tape can be used for short ranges, but this is not recommended.

2.7 DP Interface

There is a serial RS 232, 9600 baud, interface available for the connection of the
DP control system. This can have one of three data formats each suitable for use
by a DP system. They all basically send the range and bearing of the targets in
ASCII code with control characters. No fault flags are included in the message;
if there are any problems with the fan beam the transmissions to the DP are
suspended. A converter can be installed to convert the RS232 format to that
required by the DP control system.

IMCA M 131 Page 5


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System Installation

3 INSTALLATION

3.1 Scanner and Laser

The scanner has to be mounted on a firm surface, with minimum vibration, clear
from salt spray or smoke which may obscure the lenses. Although the laser is
eye safe it should be mounted above eye level to reduce the likelihood of
inadvertent viewing of the laser beam. The laser must have a clear view of the
target. It is necessary to align the scanner with the ships head. An offset is then
introduced to correct the reading to zero degrees. Once aligned, a datum point,
at a known angle on the vessel, should be marked to allow realignment if the
unit needs to be removed and replaced.

3.2 Universal Display Unit

The UDU is supplied with a U shaped bracket which allows it to pivot about
its centre line. The bracket can be fixed in any position required. However, as
discussed later, this is difficult to read at night or in sunlight, and this should be
born in mind when choosing a location for the UDU.

3.3 Target

The target should be mounted in an appropriate place for the vessels operation.
Possible sources of interference such as low sun, lights and other reflective items
on the platform and the vessel should also be considered. The target
recommended for DP operations is a cylindrical target 150mm in diameter and
1.2m long. This is aluminium and has a mounting eye at one end.

3.4 Cables

Cables required are:


a 7 core, 24/02 with overall screen, between the UDU and the scanner.
This is terminated with 8 way Canon style connectors;
a 3 core, 32/02 screened cable for the power supply, rated at 10 amps, and
terminated in a Canon type connector.

A suitable cable will also be required to the DP control system. This is


connected by a Mil style connector.

3.5 Maintenance

Once operational the scanning head should be inspected at regular intervals and
kept clean with fresh water and a mild detergent. The laser lenses should be
cleaned with a proprietary lens cleaning cloth. The shaft seal should be greased
every 6 months with a lithium-based multi-purpose grease.

IMCA M 131 Page 6


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System System Assessment

4 SYSTEM ASSESSMENT

4.1 Advantages

The main advantages of the system are considered to be:


Low cost compared to other reference systems;
Ease of installation;
Passive target (ideal if there is a requirement for Intrinsically Safe);
Target does not require any support services from the installation it is on;
High accuracy.

4.2 Disadvantages

The main disadvantages of the system are considered to be:


Will not operate with sun shining into the lenses;
UDU is not easily read, particularly in bright sunlight and at night;
The lenses can be affected by condensation, rain and salt spray;
The system will not operate in fog, snow or heavy rain;
The system may become confused at night if there are bright lights close to
the target.
The system is constructed of two dissimilar metals: stainless steel and
aluminium. With salt water these produce a battery which can result in
corrosion problems;
May be interfered with by reflective items on the vessel or the platform; such
as safety notices, reflective jackets, etc.

4.3 Operational Experience

Some of the operators of DP vessels with fan beam systems have provided
comments on its operation, which have been included in the sections on
advantages and disadvantages. In general the reports were favourable.
However, one vessel, although not a DP vessel, has had a disproportionate
number of problems. These can be largely explained by the fact that the scanner
has been mounted where it is subjected to salt spray and is in a dirty
environment. It also scans multiple targets, has two scanners, and is under the
control of another computer system. Hence there is a certain amount of
complication that would not be present on a normal, simpler installation.

The vessels with the fan beam system include many that either just had, or are
about to have, a system installed, so they have little or no direct experience as
yet. It is expected that more will be learned over the next year as they all gain
operational experience.

The major criticism is the visibility of the UDU display in sunlight and at night.
The manufacturers are, however, looking at this problem. Condensation on the

IMCA M 131 Page 7


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System System Assessment

lenses has been a problem, but this has been improved by fitting double
glazing in front of the lenses.

There have been problems with the gear box where the scanning head has been
forced by hand against the motor drive. This should not be a problem if the
equipment is treated correctly.

IMCA M 131 Page 8


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System Technical Specification

5 TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

This is given below. It should be noted that although the maximum range is 2000m, the
accuracy for DP is influenced by gyro compass accuracy and resolution. So for DP the
range is likely to be 200 metres.

Technical Specifications
Laser: Environmental:
Semi-conducting laser diode array Units water- and dustproof
Wavelength 0.9 microns IP67 (hose proof)
Safety Class 3A Eyesafe to unaided eye Operating temperature: -10 to +45C
Beam: 20 vertical Power: 24V DC 1.5 amp
2cm at optics horizontal
Divergence 4 milli-radians Dimensions:
Maximum range 2000m+ (weather dependent) Fan beam unit:
Range accuracy 20cm (10cm possible) Size: Width: 200mm
(dependent on target and scan rate) Length: 300mm
Height: 320mm
Mechanics: Weight: 13.6kg
Construction: machined aluminium
Gearbox: stepper driven worm and wheel Main Power Supply:
Angular resolution: 0.01 Option: 110/240 AC, 50-60Hz
Angular accuracy: better than 0.02 Size: Width: 200mm
Scan speed: up to 50/sec Length: 300mm
Height: 140mm
Interfacing: Weight: 6kg
Current loop/RS 232
Baud rate 1200 or 9600

Universal Display Unit (UDU):


LCD graphics display (640 x 200)
Size: Width: 160mm
Length: 300mm
Height: 52mm
Weight: 2kg

IMCA M 131 Page 9


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System Failure Modes

6 FAILURE MODES

It is not the object of this report to detail the failure modes and effects of the system, but
if a vessel is having an FMEA performed then the following failures should be
considered and tested for:

Failure of vertical reference sensor, as the systems measurements need


compensation for roll and pitch within the DP;

Signal blocked due to dirty lens or physical obstacle;

Loss of target or false target. This should be avoided by the scan limits and range
limits that can be set in via the UDU;

Low sun;

Bright lights, particularly at night;

Loss of serial link to the DP control system;

Loss of 24V DC and recovery;

Loss of encoder feedback.

IMCA M 131 Page 10


Use of the Fan Beam Laser System Conclusions

7 CONCLUSIONS

The fan beam system seems to offer a useful addition to the range of position reference
systems that can be used by DP vessels. Like all other systems it has its own relative
advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, there is no perfect system for DP
purposes, but the fan beam should prove useful for close-in work in good weather.

The system does not present the DP system with any fault codes in its serial message,
yet this should not be a problem as the message is halted if there is a fault. The system
should, however, be tested for the failure modes suggested. This needs to be done to
ensure that the fan beam, in conjunction with its DP control system, cannot produce a
drive off, drift off or large position excursion.

IMCA M 131 Page 11