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11th September 2019

Around the world with a Satcom Global Aura VSAT engineer

VSAT Engineering Interview: Andrew Dunning.

We spoke to Andrew Dunning (known to many customers as AJ), one of our expert EMEA Service Engineers based at Satcom Global’s HQ in North Shields, UK who has been with us for five years. Andrew travels the world working and visiting customer vessels to install maritime satellite communications, including Satcom Global Aura VSAT both in ports, on dry dock and at newbuild sites.

What sort of vessels do you typically visit?

"The EMEA and Americas engineering team visit a huge range of different types of vessels to install satcoms solutions such as our flagship Ku-band VSAT service, Aura. The team have experience installing on board bulk carriers and cargo containers with tight schedules, as well as oil and liquid petroleum gas tankers with strict regulations in the oil and gas industry, all the way to support vessels and rigs operating in offshore industry. We have also worked on board exploration and security vessels including offshore patrol ships and survey vessels, as well as very large luxury motorboats and yachts staffed with a full crew, to small private yachts."

What is the most memorable job you have worked on?

"We see a huge variety of vessels on our travels, but one still stands out for me as a moment in history! Our first ever Aura VSAT installation completed by the EMEA engineering team was on board an Irish flagged general cargo vessel in Blyth, England back in 2016 called Arklow Meadow. It was an incredible example of learning on the job and resulted in a huge success by the skilled team under extreme time pressure. In our workshop in North Shields we had all the components for the VSAT solution and had in-depth knowledge and hands on experience of all them separately, but now we had to combine them all and make the solution work seamlessly in a real-world scenario. Managing the installation end-to-end, from antenna preparation work to running all the cables on board the vessel, required teamwork and set the standard for future installations.

We also installed and commissioned Aura VSAT to offer high speed and reliable communications on a luxury 70m private motorboat able to accommodate 16 guests and 20 crew. The installation was carried out in Nice in the South of France where the vessel was stationed during the summer season, offering a stunning backdrop. With experience in the Navy, personally I found working on the vessel incredibly interesting as it was previously a military owned ship used for spying in the war and has since been converted to a luxury private yacht with beautiful wood finish and lavish furnishings."

What is the biggest challenge with installations?

"One of our key aims is to minimise the time we spend on board to keep costs down for the customer, so we have to ensure the time we have on board is used incredibly efficiently and our resources are put to best use so we don’t overrun our planned schedule. The ideal situation would be arriving at the vessel on time, early in the morning, with the crew having run cables as well as prepared the antennas beforehand. This ensures that on arrival we can get straight to work on the more complex commissioning and technical work, so our customers get the greatest value from our vessel attendance!

An example of this was during an installation on board a bulk carrier in Turkey. When I arrived at the port, all the equipment and hardware was still packaged up separately in boxes without any of the required preparation work done. In order to maximise the time I had on board, I informed them the best way to proceed was for them to carry on unpacking and preparing the equipment, whilst I setup the rack and BDE, loaded all files, and got the system up and running on Iridium OpenPort. I then taught them how to terminate the VSAT cable and how to mount the antenna without my assistance. Once this was complete a week later, I was able to access the vessel communications remotely and commission it over the phone and internet via the Iridium OpenPort. As soon as this final step was completed, the vessels Wi-Fi and phones became operational, and it meant I could still return on my booked flights, and no extra costs were incurred for the owner.

Another hurdle we have to overcome is due to the international nature of the maritime business, where Captains and crew often speak different languages to each other as well as the attending Satcom Global engineer. We have engineers and technical support specialists of different nationalities working at Satcom Global, who speak a variety of languages, but when there is a language barrier, google translate comes in quite handy!"

Is there a vessel visit that stands out or an interesting port or location?

"Our job requires a fair amount of travel to some really interesting and remote places around the world.

I was commissioned to install Aura VSAT on board a Parakou tanker in South Africa, which was a very interesting trip for me personally as I used to live there from 1984-1990 as a child. Added to the nostalgia, on the way to the vessel in the anchorage area it was whale mating season, so the area was inundated with the enormous mammals, jumping out of the water right in-front of our fairly small launch vessel!

More recently I serviced five antennas in the Caribbean for PG Tankers. I managed to go to the beach in St Maarten which is famous for being at the end of a runway and literally in touching distance of planes taking off and landing which was amazing to see. I also managed to see wild sea turtles swimming in the bluest sea imaginable; sometimes work takes you to the most incredible places.

Have you done any installs outside of a traditional port?

"Not really but quite often I get involved in doing tasks remotely which helps keeps engineering costs down for vessel owners and managers. I also provide training to third party engineers from our Aura dealer network, so just because myself or the Satcom Global engineering team are not on site, does not mean we can’t achieve our mission to commission the system and get vessel communications up and running in a time efficient manner!"

Have you personally had much experience installing Aura with the brand- new Iridium Certus service?

"I recently installed our Aura VSAT solution featuring Iridium Certus as back-up on board a 55,000-ton Panama flagged LPG Tanker in Houston Texas for a well-known global ship management company. The small SAILOR 4300, Certus antenna, is incredibly easy to ship to the vessel and install, and the improved L-Band speeds show the advances being made in the satellite communications industry.

In the future, all the antennas will just get smaller, and smaller and speeds will continue to increase at demands for data continue to grow. Companies are really seeing the benefits of a connected ship with a happy crew using cheaper more reliable communications."

How do you meet the challenges of completing a fleet wide rollout of Aura VSAT in as little time as possible?

"We pride ourselves on our ability to move fast and complete installation on board a fleet of vessels with tight deadlines due to ship schedules. We have completed some very speedy conversions of vessels from their existing VSAT solution, to Satcom Global Aura VSAT. With compatible Ku-band hardware on board already, an upgrade can be very easy.

We always use the first vessel in a fleet rollout schedule as a trial run to iron out the specifics to do with differing regulations, special unique owner specifications and unique ship set-up, but after that, we aim to get installs completed within two days maximum. As long as there is good communication from the start of the project, we can all work well together to get the job done properly in the shortest time."

What’s the quickest single installations you have completed?

"I managed to complete an install for a vessel from a well-known fleet of bulk and general cargo vessels, in just 8 hours. This required serious preparation work, a keen crew and an arrival time at the destination favouring an early start to the day."

 

Satcom Global’s in-house network of multi-skilled maritime and offshore engineers, provide engineering, maintenance and installation services, whenever and wherever you need them. With an expert team of engineers, we boast worldwide installation capabilities operating from strategic hubs in both the UK and Singapore, and our integrated and multi-disciplinary teams of experts boast over 45 years in the marine and offshore markets, bringing with them a wealth of practical and theoretical engineering experience.

Our knowledgeable engineers are trained installation and service agents for a wide range of leading hardware manufacturers including Intellian, our antenna supplier for Aura VSAT, and are available at short notice to provide a range of services across the globe.

It's no secret that maritime VSAT installations can be expensive and complicated. With Satcom Global Aura however, we are making it our mission to provide the most flexible, cost effective and transparent VSAT service on the market, and our engineering services are part of our offering.

 

Please visit our engineering page for more information on our services and don’t hesitate to contact justask@satcomglobal.com to speak to us about how we can best serve your needs.

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Satcom Global Engineering
Our job requires a fair amount of travel to some really interesting and remote places around the world."
Andrew Dunning , Satcom Global EMEA Service Engineer