Compared to the office-like look of modern onshore control rooms, the ECR (Engine Control Room) on ships often look impressive, because of the many hardware control panels, blinking lights and clearly visible electrical cabinets. Despite of its ‘high-tech’ first impression, an ECR is often a poorly designed work environment.
This seems to be historically based: since operators need to cool down frequently after working in a hot engine room, they traditionally find a pleasant air-conditioned place in the switchboard room of the ship, for the simple reason that power electronics need a cool environment too …
However, temperature alone does not guarantee a good working environment: the high capacity cooling system often creates a high airflow and high sound levels as well. Switchboard rooms, especially the high voltage ones, are not the safest of all places.
Another point of interest is the engineers job itself. The engineers job has changed considerably in last decades: much of engine control systems are automated now, operator manuals are supplied in a digital format and much of the maintenance work is prepared behind a computer screen.
Nowadays a medium sized cargo vessel requires not more than 1 to 2 m hardware control panel and a just few computer screens.
As a result of this development, a modern ECR, optimally fitted to the engineers tasks, should be designed more like an onshore control room, with a stronger focus on screen based process supervision. This may result in a more office-like work environment, like in the example below:
Some design guideline examples:
- Use a box-in-box construction to achieve low sound and vibration levels.
- Move all substantial heat and sound generating equipment to a separate compartment, apart from the ECR, to reduce high sound and high airflow levels.
- Create proper operator workplaces with a thin ( < 50 mm) desktop surface and sufficient leg space.
- Arrange coffee break and meeting facilities inside the ECR, so work preparation and cooling down (after working in a hot enviroment) can be combined with process supervision.
The standard ISO 110 64 ‘Ergonomic design of control centres’ is developed for onshore control rooms, but provides much useful information for ECR design as well.
For more information on ergonomic ship bridge design, contact ErgoS HFE.