James Fisher Mimic (JFM) and the Engineering Department's Dr Xiandong Ma wanted to make ships ‘smarter’ through developing condition monitoring software – Mimic – to improve fuel efficiency and reduce unnecessary maintenance.

The Organisation

As part of a ship-owner and operating company, JFM uses their fleet and experienced personnel to develop a range of products focusing on maximising the use of technology to solve problems within the shipping industry. They provide condition monitoring software that allows companies’ maintenance decisions to be based on condition and performance rather than on recommended time basis, which reduces unnecessary maintenance.

The Challenge

Scheduled maintenance costs are a large part of the operating expenses for ship owners; often seen as pure costs, with no immediate need or longer-term benefits, which leads to many owners putting it off. However, this eventually leads to more breakdowns, resulting in a higher overall cost.

Monitoring and diagnostics of ships play an increasingly important role in optimal scheduling of maintenance activities. Condition monitoring has previously only been used for specific aspects of a ship's system. Recently, there has been a growing interest in the monitoring of fuel usage and conditions of the whole ship which JFM seek to develop and include in their software – Mimic.

Expertise Sought

  • Electrical engineering
  • Smart sensor systems
  • Signal processing
  • Integrated and intelligent monitoring techniques and models

The Solution

JFM provided real data collected from the operational ships, allowing the research to be conducted with a focus on three areas:

  • Fault classification through enhanced time-frequency patterns which helps identify multiple events in real time

Different failures can be interpreted and classified based on the specific time-frequency patterns produced. This development helps to address the problem of multiple events, for example, due to mechanical and electrical faults that may occur simultaneously but reside in different frequency bands.

  • Automatic fault detection to serve as an early warning system

The researchers developed and refined data-driven condition monitoring models that can predict a potential fault or failure of the critical equipment, eg turbochargers and propulsion engines, forming the basis of an early warning system.

  • Development of Smart sensor systems

The researchers investigated the essential sensors required for condition monitoring approaches for fuel efficiency and energy management. The aim was to determine the novel and operational sensors and the associated conditioning electronics that must be able to operate within the extreme environment of the seas.


The total cost of the project for staff, travel and materials was £20,000, £10,000 equivalent staff time supplied by JFM, £10,000 match-funded through the Impact Acceleration Account (IAA). The IAA is £600,000 funding from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council to finance a range of activities designed to foster greater collaboration with industry and bridge the gap between the lab and the marketplace.


The results from this study will further improve competitive operation and could revolutionise fuel efficiency. Most importantly, such a technological advance could be retro-fitted to the majority of the world’s ships, thus promising substantial impacts as a result of this research within existing ship systems.

Benefits to the company

  • Safeguarded the jobs of the existing 14 JFM employees
  • Future sales of Mimic software potentially enhanced due to this research
  • Potential for further job creation dependent on future sales
  • Substantial maintenance cost savings for current and future Mimic users

Benefits to the university

  • The successful conclusion of this project will lead to further collaboration between JFM and Lancaster University
  • This research contributes to the critically important ‘Low carbon innovation programme’ of the EPSRC – the main body for attracting research funding
  • JFM gave Lancaster researchers the opportunity to conduct the research using their vessel data as a live test bed.

Benefits to society

  • It is hoped the research undertaken will help facilitate changes in the culture of maintenance within the marine industry
  • As the system can be retro-fitted to the majority of the world’s ships, this research is of global significance

Company Feedback

“This research has helped enormously with deeper signal processing than was currently undertaken and has resulted in a deeper understanding of machinery fault situations. By entering into this project with the University we secured a concentrated effort and powerful resource able to focus on areas that we are prevented from considering by the day to day pressures involved with a normal business. We are now able to use the knowledge and information to develop new ways of searching for machinery faults amongst a clutter of normal operational data.After struggling for many years to find the time away from the coal face to concentrate on new projects we now have the confidence to engage with the University in the future to simplify the process of gaining the knowledge we need to progress”.

Martin Briddon, Engineering Manager, JFM.

Researcher Feedback

Dr. Xiandong Ma says:

“It has been an excellent opportunity for us to work with James Fisher Mimic, a leading provider of condition monitoring software and services to the shipping industry worldwide. The team at JFM has been really helpful and provided particular requirements for investigating condition monitoring algorithms and systems within marine ships. The experience has greatly helped to convince the viability of the proposed project. We are looking forward to our next collaboration with them”,

Future Plans

Due to the successful conclusion of this project, JFM will continue to collaborate with the University, to build upon this foundation through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, as new project requirements are realised.

An article on the research project featured in the September edition of The Motorship