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Data visualization uncovers new dimensions in wind power

For James Fisher, pictures worth a thousand volts

   By Thomas LaMonte | 3 minute read | August 3, 2020
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   All photos via James Fisher and Sons.

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   Offshore wind turbines are springing up from the sea like sprouted plants from the soil in greater numbers than ever before. Below the ocean’s surface, their critical cable network extends—as if roots—and connects more consumers year-over-year with renewable sources of energy.

   The proliferation of wind farms is helping propel communities into the future of sustainability efforts. Fourteen percent of the EU’s energy demand was met with wind power in 2018, according to WindEurope. The continued production and maintenance of these propeller-topped marvels are crucial pursuits.

   Getting up close with one of these windswept giants, some reaching offshore heights as tall as 80 meters (262 feet), is just another day in the office for James Fisher and Sons plc. This UK–based company is a world–leading marine solutions organization. James Fisher employs a team of experts at submarine rescue, ship-to-ship transfers and integrated engineering solutions. It also provides solutions and services to maintain the subsea cables that transmit power from offshore wind farms to consumers on land.

   It’s undeniable: the kinds of jobs in James Fisher’s repertoire overlook a backdrop of oceanic beauty. But there’s another thing of beauty worth admiring in this 170-year-old marine engineering company: James Fisher is teeming with beautiful data.

The art of data science

   In 2019, data scientists at James Fisher hypothesized on the benefits of dredging up its siloed data from a myriad of sources. With the help of the IBM Data Science and AI Elite team (DSE), they created visualizations of model data through a proof–of–concept project. These data visualizations were built on IBM Watson Studio and developed through the IBM Garage methodology.

   The IBM partnership was about “making sense out of data,” according to Sean Huff, Chief Digital Officer at James Fisher. A major challenge was to aggregate data housed across James Fisher’s many industries.

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   The data visualizations were accessible via an easy–to–consume dashboard. Simulated risk assessments of individual subsea cables were translated in visual terms, and in near real-time. To optimize maintenance scheduling of the subsea cables that connect offshore windfarms with the mainland, predictions were based on the data.

   With predictive maintenance, the data visualizations gave sight to the unseen. Subsea cables lie on the seabed and are extremely difficult to observe. That means cable caretakers lack insight into their condition or status. Users use the dashboard to drill down for live updates of the health of a cable, account for anomalies and view predictions for potential risk to better plan for cable maintenance and continuity.

   When contoured with data, the invisible world beneath depths is revealed, allowing insight that can’t be achieved with human effort alone.

Predictive maintenance under the sea

   An exciting aspect of data visualization is the role these techniques can play in solving major business challenges.

   For example, James Fisher employs a great number of highly skilled specialists and experts. The company is extremely vulnerable to knowledge loss due to retirement. Data visualization technology helps flatten knowledge demands to empower non-experts or more easily ramp up new hires.

   Most critically, data visualization provides an unparalleled degree of insight. According to Ryan Henderson, executive director of EDS HV Group (a James Fisher company), subsea cables are the umbilical that connect offshore wind with consumers. The ability to make predictions about these cables remotely, despite their restrictive location hundreds of meters deep, is an invaluable asset. Predictive maintenance helps to ensure renewable wind power has a route back to shore, channels of great dependence that keep the lights on.

   For James Fisher, the vantage point granted through data visualization and predictive maintenance ensures interruptions to energy utility services are kept to an absolute minimum. No small detail: the question of reliability will mean the difference between confidence in wind power, or conversely, taking the wind out of the sails of sustainability efforts.

Visualizing a renewable future

   Together, James Fisher and IBM are surging towards a renewable tomorrow with the electrifying power of data visualization. Setting course with this success as their navigation, James Fisher looks to scale IBM Watson Studio and apply data visualization to other uncharted waters of the business.

   For James Fisher the future is exciting, because the promise of data visualization goes beyond business optimization. It reveals new dimensions in which to understand business problems and tilts into focus opportunities on the horizon.

   While no prediction is watertight, this much is clear: off the coast of East Anglia and elsewhere, the winds of change are blowing.

   Join industry leaders and experts examining the trends, technology and transformation needed now. Join the IBM Exchange.

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