11th 10月 2023

6 common problems associated with hydraulic winches and how to overcome them

In this blog post, our Regional Director, Neil Jackson, examines six common problems associated with hydraulic winches, and how STR’s experience in harnessing the superior benefits of electric winches through our innovative SeaTow product line can help to overcome them…

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For many years, hydraulic winches have been the preferred choice for a number of industries when it comes to pulling large, heavy objects over extended distances in an offshore setting. However, despite their widely known acceptance, these winches present a number of challenges both to the crew members using it and to the wider environment, which are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Times are changing and electric winches have proven to be an innovative alternative which eliminate the issues that come with hydraulic systems. Not only do electric winches offer enhanced efficiency and reliability when compared to their hydraulic counterparts, they also offer better control, precision and ease of installation.

In this blog post, our Regional Director, Neil Jackson, examines six common problems associated with hydraulic winches, and how STR’s experience in harnessing the superior benefits of electric winches through our innovative SeaTow product line can help to overcome them...

Problem 1: High energy consumption, even when static

Hydraulic winches have been a go-to choice for a number of years, as they used to have a lower Electro-Magnetic Interference level (EMI) than electric winches, which resulted in improved communications performance on the tow cable.

That being said, hydraulic winches are notorious for their high energy consumption. While not in use, they still demand a considerable amount of hydraulic power to maintain operational readiness. This means a constantly running, high powered generator is required, resulting in elevated fuel costs over the long term and the risk of being rendered unusable if a hydraulic power source isn’t available.

The solution:

Switching to an electric winch eliminates the need for such an intensive power source, as it benefits from higher motor efficiency than hydraulic winches and only consumes high power when in motion. This, combined with a lower power generator and low standby power consumption, means operators can significantly reduce fuel expenses for a more cost-effective operation.

Although hydraulic winches have been renowned for having the upper hand in terms of EMI levels, our SeaTow winches have been carefully designed to offer outstanding EMI performance to that of virtually all other winch types - including most hydraulic winches. This means operators can capitalise on the cost savings electric winches offer in terms of energy efficiency, without compromising on the winch’s communications performance.

Problem 2: Environmental and safety concerns

Hydraulic winches are complex systems and utilise high-pressure hoses that are susceptible to wear and tear from the harsh offshore locations they’re typically used in. Over time, this deterioration can result in high quantities of oil leaking into the surrounding environment. Hydraulic oil leaks present a serious environmental risk within the sensitive offshore locations they’re used, as well as increasing the risk to worker health and safety.

In today’s world where climate concerns and environmental issues are a critical focal point across numerous industries and locations, it’s imperative that a cleaner, safer solution to hydraulic winches is more widely available for subsea operations.

The solution:

Electric winches are much cleaner for the environment than their hydraulic counterparts, offering a lower environmental impact as a result of their excellent motor efficiency and low standby power consumption.

Our SeaTow product line can operate effectively at both low and high pressures with no pumped fluids required. Without hydraulic fluids, the risk of oil leaks and spills is completely eliminated, which makes our electric SeaTow winches not just an eco-friendly option, but a choice that also enhances workplace safety.

Problem 3: Complexity in cooling systems

Another key challenge when using hydraulic winches is that they generate a significant amount of heat when a large load is placed on the tow cable. This puts a high amount of strain on the hydraulic heat exchanger cooling system as a result, and means that hydraulic winches require the added complexity of water cooling systems being installed on the vessel.

This can become laborious and potentially hazardous for crews, as the cooling system will require additional maintenance such as filter changes, cleaning the hydraulic pumps and oil top-ups. It also requires extra care to be taken so as to avoid oil discharge from the hydraulic system into the surrounding environment. In the long-term, this can result in inefficient operations and time wasted, as well as potentially dangerous working environments.

The solution:

Electric winches such as our SeaTow product line are designed with integrated electronic systems that capture and dissipate heat internally. This makes the winch self-sufficient, eliminating the need for external energy capture or management systems to keep the system cool and safe. Additionally, since electric winches are air-cooled, there is no risk of them discharging contaminated water into the surrounding environment, which further positions them as a more eco-conscious choice for offshore operations.

Problem 4: Basic control systems susceptible to wear and tear

The control systems in hydraulic winches are often quite simplistic, utilising valves, relays and contactors for their operation. These elements can only offer a basic level of control, and are prone to wear and tear which further reduces the reliability of the system over time.

As a result, hydraulic winches often require frequent maintenance and part replacement, making them inefficient and potentially more costly in the long run.

The solution:

Our SeaTow electric winches employ an advanced electronic control system that minimises the use of simple components that are more susceptible to wear and tear, as used in most electro-hydraulic installations. Not only that, these advanced systems provide a superior level of control, status monitoring and operator feedback, while supporting remote communication control.

This makes electric winches well suited to projects on remotely operated or lean-crewed vessels, while also improving the overall reliability and reducing maintenance downtime, to ensure operations run smoothly.

Problem 5: Noise pollution

Hydraulic winches are known for being very noisy and creating a high vibration when in operation. This can be a significant concern in environments where noise pollution is a problem, such as offshore locations where marine life could be disturbed by the excessive noise.

Not only that, the constant humming and loud noise from a hydraulic winch can also be disruptive to the crew members operating the winch too, which can have a detrimental effect on productivity in the long term.

The solution:

With electric winches, the requirement for noisy Hydraulic Power Units (HPUs) is virtually eliminated, allowing for low noise levels which in turn better supports job site communications and overall safety. Our range of SeaTow electric winches are carefully engineered to ensure quieter operations for this reason, which provides a more comfortable work environment for operators and is less harmful to sensitive marine habitats.

Problem 6: Complexities in mobilisation and demobilisation

Although they are powerful and durable, hydraulic winches are known for being difficult to install, since they require the installation of a hydraulic pump first. From multiple lifts to installing additional cooling systems, the process can be complex and time-consuming for the crews involved, with a lot more components required to power the winch.

When it comes to demobilisation, the same challenges apply, often requiring a larger operational footprint resulting in additional time, budget and resources to do so safely.

The solution:

One of the key advantages of an electric winch is that it is generally much easier to mobilise and demobilise compared to a hydraulic alternative. To transfer the winch from one vessel to another, it’s only the winch that needs to be reinstalled as it runs on the battery of the vessel rather than a separate hydraulic pump, thus allowing for a more swift and efficient process with less operational downtime.

STR’s SeaTow series simplifies the installation and demobilisation process significantly. With a single lift and a smaller environmental footprint, it allows teams to make significant savings in both time and operational costs, making it an ideal choice for businesses looking to improve operational efficiency.

Hydraulic winches may have a long history of use in various industries, but as we move into a more technologically advanced and environmentally conscious era, it's crucial to consider the superior benefits of electric winches like STR's SeaTow series. From lower energy consumption and reduced environmental impact, to easier installation and less frequent maintenance, electric winches not only enhance operational efficiency but also contribute to a more sustainable future.

Discover the world’s largest fleet of fully electric winches and unlock high quality, efficient subsea data acquisition within the offshore energy market…

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Discover the world’s largest fleet of fully electric winches and unlock high quality, efficient subsea data acquisition within the offshore energy market…

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