Application StoriesIssue 46, 2021Notebook IssuePLCProductProgrammable Control

AutomationDirect PLCs and HMIs On Board Luxury Yachts

A seagoing story about how a premier yacht builder has progressively incorporated reliable AutomationDirect devices for monitoring and controlling ship systems.

Westport Yachts, based in Washington State, constructs luxury 112- to 172-foot-long models and has launched hundreds of seagoing vessels since 1964. As the leading yacht builder in North America, and one of the largest in the world, Westport has a rich history of design methods, materials, and fabrication techniques.

However, they are always evaluating and adopting new technologies for meeting technical and performance requirements. The Westport Yachts engineering staff wrote an article published by in January 2021 titled Automation Helps Crews Run a Tight Ship, relating how they have progressively integrated modern programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and human-machine interfaces (HMIs) into their world-class yachts over the past 20 years.

Learning the Ropes

Reliability of shipboard systems is of utmost reliability, so automation traditionally consisted of hardwired switches and gauges, with many standalone elements. Modern shipboard equipment is more capable, and sometimes prospective owners request improved technology. Westport engineers also generate internal improvement initiatives to deliver the best yachts.

Out of the Doldrums

On-board packaged subsystems have become more numerous and intelligent, calling for automation and integration among equipment such as:

  • Power generation and distribution
  • Heat, fire, smoke, and CO2 detection
  • Tank and bilge level indication
  • Door and lighting control and alarming
  • Air conditioning plant

Each system may use hardwiring, a variety of controllers, unique communication protocols, and other proprietary elements, making it difficult to integrate them while preserving simplicity and minimizing installation and maintenance costs.

All Aboard with PLCs and HMIs

Industrial PLCs and HMIs have been used to perform control, visualization, and integration in harsh manufacturing environments for many decades, so they are a natural fit for yacht automation. Westport began to adopt AutomationDirect PLCs around the year 2000, as a flexible way to add functionality. AutomationDirect HMIs provide at-a-glance status and more detailed information to crew members at multiple locations on the yacht.

As compared to hardwired or proprietary equipment controls, PLCs and HMIs make it easier to add functionality later in the design process, and input/output points can be located as needed to minimize wiring effort. Modifications are quicker, and remote diagnostics and troubleshooting support become possible.