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Future-oriented, Reliable Marine Automation Systems

Blue Ctrl AS develops marine automation systems based on its comprehensive, state-of-the-art X-CONNECT® automation platform. The X-CONNECT® platform enables easy and efficient configuration of every aspect of the vessel operation and control system.

As a global provider of marine automation systems, Blue Ctrl also licenses its X-CONNECT® platform to a large network of partners working for some of the world's major players in the naval industry.   

Built entirely on the Qt Framework, X-CONNECT® is one such case of Platform Engineering where Qt, acting as a middleware, provides the level of abstraction and standardization needed to integrate different systems together, for different modules to talk to each other, for different software stacks to live on the same codebase.

Building on the idea of standardization and re-usability that is at the heart of Qt technology, the platform strategy has major positive effects on the production workflow, quality, and efficiency. Read our story to learn more!

Qt Solution Highlights 

Development of a proprietary self-service platform for marine automation 

Highly optimized, ready-made components, customizable and deployable to different devices

Use of Qt as middleware for both backend and GUI

Scalable distributed peer-to-peer networking architecture based on Qt Signals and Slots

Centralized configuration system for all nodes

Standardized building blocks reusable across varied systems

Configurable components for diverse customer requirements

We use IO controllers to collect data and interface third-party equipment, operator stations and extended alarm system units that run UI applications, and main controller units for business logic. Qt serves as the framework for our applications, handling both the backend and GUI aspects.

Espen Skjong, Technical Director, Blue Ctrl

See X-CONNECT in action



State-of-the-art Marine Automation Systems

Modern industrial vessels are highly advanced and sophisticated machines designed to operate in some of the most challenging environments on earth. These vessels are equipped with leading-edge technology, including advanced navigation and communication systems, engine and cargo management systems, and more to enable the safe and efficient transportation of people and goods across the oceans. With many similarities to other industries, digitalization plays a central role in the automation and optimization of naval processes.

The ship Alarm and Monitoring System (AMS) detects, informs, and alerts the personnel about the ship's status, helping maintain safety and compliance with regulations. An AMS consists of different hardware and software components to collect, process, store, distribute, and display information. Typically, it integrates information from many different ship components, such as power, engine, propulsion, stability, and cargo systems.

Information is presented in a timely and continuous way using real-time tech in dedicated GUIs leveraging symbolism and interactivity to enhance the user experience. 

This is obviously Qt's bread and butter. Let's see in more detail how our technology and Qt Professional Services helps Blue Ctrl fulfill its needs.

Read more about Qt in Industrial Automation

In a standard X-CONNECT® automation system, such as one used on an offshore vessel, we have around 10 cabinets, 30 IO controllers, and 5-10 business logic controller units. The system usually includes 4-6 operator stations and 5-10 extended alarm system panel PC units, all connected through a redundant ring network. Communication between system nodes uses the brokerless DDS protocol with publish-subscribe patterns. For networking, we depend on the Qt framework, incorporating Qt Signals and Slots in various applications and utilizing QML for graphical representation.

Espen Skjong, Technical Director, Blue Ctrl


The X-CONNECT® Platform

Implementing an AMS to integrate and manage such a variety of devices and processes, with very different specifications for different types of vessels, is not a simple task to solve with an ad-hoc solution at each new commission. To increase the level of standardization and reusability in its development process, Blue Ctrl chose to move from a project-based to a product-based approach, by building a Qt-based hardware- and software-independent platform for marine automation systems. 

The X-CONNECT® platform combines industrial hardware and configurable software, including data communication, multi-gateway IO interface, tooling, and high-definition UIs. Its modular design makes it very scalable and flexible. Building on the flexibility and modularity of the Qt framework, X-CONNECT® delivers optimal performance, reliability, and efficiency on a wide range of different configurations.

Qt cross-platform capabilities and QML's modularity make all the difference. The systems are not equal at all, but the building blocks are. We don't program anything in the deliveries. We just configure, the parts we have made in C++ and Qt. Espen Skjong, Technical Director, Blue Ctrl.

For the same reasons, changing a pump or another device in the ship has no impact on the overall system and can be handled locally by adjusting the software and hardware configuration of that specific node.

Everything is packaged into a single-versioned software bundle. We bundle our operative system (Yocto) and our applications together with the customer-specific configuration file into one software package and deploy the complete tested bundle on board to all system nodes with X-CONNECT® applications—it's actually quite easy to upgrade the complete system.

Espen Skjong, Technical Director, Blue Ctrl


Decentralized System Maintenance

Typically, end customers purchase a complete system—fully configured and installed as per commission. Blue Ctrl supports the system from a product lifecycle perspective by deploying new upgrades and versions, both adding functionality but also upgrading to new Qt versions, Yocto builds, and so forth.

New X-CONNECT releases are shipped regularly. Blue Ctrl can operate the deployment of a fully tested software update remotely, via VPN. But customers can also deploy independently at their convenience, from their offices or on board. In other words, if a controller or other piece of hardware fails, customers can replace it independently and re-deploy the configuration software automatically via GUI station to that node.

When custom versions of a component are needed, X-CONNECT's Design Studio—built in collaboration with Qt Professional Services—enables their easy creation and makes them available in the configuration tool. 

In X-CONNECT Studio and in the GUI mimic editor you can edit the configuration of the overall system. You can drag and drop components, draw pipes and other objects. It's quite easy to set up new components and have them integrated into your system.

In the past you had to do this all manually, editing code line by line, adding the logic, and so forth. Now it's fully automated, using visual editing. You just add the components, connect them to each other in the GUI tool, and the system figures it out by itself and connections such as pipelines and power lines are automatically animated in your GUI. So that's something we save time on.  Espen Skjong, Technical Director, Blue Ctrl 

Learn more about Qt Professional Services

In the past, product delivery for custom projects using, among others, SCADA-based software (engineering-to-order delivery) was a time-consuming process. Nowadays, by transitioning to a configure-to-order approach and standardizing configurable functionality and features, coupled with the automated generation of numerous GUI mimics and the use of a GUI-editor tool (which is also developed on top of the Qt framework), we have substantially cut down delivery time, potentially by 2-3 times, depending on system requirements.

While accelerating the delivery process, this strategy also enhances product quality by ensuring functional correctness and minimizes the number of engineers required in a product delivery.

Espen Skjong, Technical Director, Blue Ctrl

Platform Components

The Platform Way of Working

Blue Ctrl's migration from a project-based to a product-based development approach is one such case of Qt-based Platform Engineering that drastically reduced complexity, time-to-market, and costs.

In the past, we had 3/4 people with knowledge and competence within different areas that combined could deliver a project. Today, everything is packed into the toolchain, and you don't really need core competence within specific domains (such as networking, databases, etc.) to complete a delivery.

In the current setting, one single engineer can deliver a project in about 12 weeks from contract date to delivery. And of course, that person usually works on 2-4 projects at the same time. Espen Skjong, Technical Director, Blue Ctrl 

The impact of such a shift is substantial also on quality and maintenance. In a project-based setting, errors have to be fixed one by one in each project. With a product, issues are fixed once and for all.

You don't copy and reproduce error along. It's more robust, less error prone. Everything's unit tested, delivering higher overall quality in less time than before. Espen Skjong, Technical Director, Blue Ctrl 

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Qt in Industrial Automation