Over the past five decades, Wärtsilä has harnessed its diverse capabilities in stern tube seals and bearings to become a partner for all elements of the shaft line across a vessel’s lifecycle
Now equipped with a new name, a new customer-focused organisation and a new vision, Wärtsilä Shaft Line Solutions (SLS) is intent on taking its long heritage of serving commercial marine and naval customers to the next level.
A wide-ranging reorganisation of Wärtsilä’s marine businesses last year provided the impetus for the evolution. The technology group’s diverse marine interests were divided amongst three businesses: Wärtsilä Marine Power, Wärtsilä Voyage and Wärtsilä Marine Systems. The units now grouped under Marine Systems have one thing in common; all are ‘end-to-end’ businesses, covering the entire product lifecycle and customer journey from manufacturing, sales, through to service and support in the field.
According to Panu Sorvisto, Sales Director, Wärtsilä Shaft Line Solutions, the new structure acknowledges the very different nature and customer requirements of Wärtsilä Marine Systems business units.
“Although many of our customers are supported by multiple portfolios, they may have different requirements and needs.” Sorvisto explains. “For example, an engine can be overhauled anywhere while a stern tube overhaul in most cases needs to be performed in dry dock, or in emergency cases, by our Wärtsilä Underwater Services team.”
Closer to the customer
These different needs and capabilities were also recognised in the internal reorganisation of the business units. In the case of SLS, the size of the sales and field service teams nearly trebled in size as the company recruited sales support, parts coordination and field service specialists that had previously been part of Wärtsilä’s wider country operations. According to Panu Sorvisto, the aim was to bring the company closer to the customer and streamline how they can engage with SLS.
“Previously customers would have dealt with Wärtsilä’s country operation depending on where they were based,” Sorvisto says. “Those offices would then coordinate with Shaft Line Solutions. Now we have built our own geographical network so that in each area there is a team specifically responsible for our portfolio that can work directly with customers.”
As well as expanding its reach, the reorganisation also brought greater cohesion and depth to the SLS offering. One example is the addition of Wärtsilä Underwater Services (formerly underwater repair specialist Trident). The fit is clear. At any incident with a vessel, divers are among the first on the scene to inspect damage to the hull and the shaft line. Wärtsilä Underwater Services not only provides inspection but can also make highly skilled underwater repairs in the field if needed. Once the vessel has reached dry dock, other SLS experts will be on hand to safeguard the shaft line.
Another example is Wärtsilä Defense Inc, the organisation that has traditionally been charged with selling shaft line packages to US government customers. While regulations require marine technology providers to serve US customers through a local organisation, bringing the entity into line with SLS offers more immediate and closer links to the product and service expertise that Wärtsilä has developed on a global level. It is a similar story for Wärtsilä Defence Solutions Limited, the division responsible for shaft line equipment and solutions sales, and service to non-US governmental and naval customers. That organisation also remains a stand-alone entity, with its own security and compliance arrangements, while drawing on the global SLS expertise and portfolio.
From products to solutions
The reorganisation of SLS also came with a new name, stepping away from the Wärtsilä Seals & Bearings label that had previously covered a very diverse offering.
Sorvisto explains that the old name was becoming increasingly outdated as Wärtsilä’s shaft line portfolio expanded far beyond seals and bearings. The acquisition of John Crane-Lips (including the famous Deep Sea Seals brand) and Japan Marine Technologies in 2002 was the first step in the evolution. Further additions included a stern tube and rudder bearing specialist in 2007 and Cedervall in 2011.
“Each of those acquisitions brought products and services into our portfolio, and at some point we started to think more closely about our service offering,” says Biswell. “It became quite a logical move from having the product and the service knowledge on different components along the shaft line to taking responsibility for the whole shaft line solution. We decided to change the name because we are now much more than a supplier of seals and bearings.”
A prime example of Wärtsilä’s expanding capabilities was the introduction of its Shaft Line Repair Services concept. When vessels find themselves in trouble where the shaft line may have been affected – for example during a grounding, collision or engine room fire – Wärtsilä Shaft Line Repair Services provides rapid expert assistance to get vessels running again as smoothly as possible.
Wärtsilä’s Shaft Line Repair Services brings together project managers, alignment and measurement specialists and field service engineers to provide a fully integrated service. The team of experts can tap into Wärtsilä’s dedicated manufacturing facilities around the world as well as a wide inventory of OEM parts, making sourcing replacements much quicker and project management more streamlined.
Wärtsilä’s project management expertise as well as its component and system-level service knowledge make the difference between a tightly coordinated, on-schedule repair and one that takes excessive time and cost. The service turns on SLS’s unique insight into all aspects of shaft line repair and Sorvisto explains that the company had to strive to build the new offering.
“We have increased the skill matrix within the team,” he says. “Wärtsilä already had a very strong specialist team offering alignment services although not initially part of SLS. In 2017 we integrated that into our service offering where we already had substantial product knowledge. Putting that all together we developed the service concept that has become Wärtsilä Shaft Line Repair Services.”
Wärtsilä’s increasing expertise across the shaft line and its lifecycle, has coincided with a growing demand from customers for a more integrated approach. Commercial ship owners, naval customers and shipbuilders working in both sectors are seeking to simplify their projects by appointing one company to provide a complete shaft line solution. This system integrator role combines Wärtsilä’s project management expertise, in-field experience and product engineering knowledge and is set to become a significant part of the SLS business following the award of some key naval contracts.
Tackling tomorrow’s challenges today
Reorganising a business during a pandemic might not have been straightforward, but it has proved a valuable testing ground for Wärtsilä Shaft Line Solutions. According to Tim Biswell, the restraints imposed by COVID-19 have stressed the importance of having skilled people available globally – at the very time that SLS was investing in just that capability.
“With travel restrictions and other limitations in place, we have been able to keep our customers moving precisely because we now have specialist support staff in place globally,” says Biswell. “Our 100-strong field service organisation covering all the main shipping regions has been a great benefit.”
Another important element in keeping customers afloat during the pandemic has been an accelerated roll-out of digital tools. Like many companies, Wärtsilä had been exploring remote support technologies for some years before the novel coronavirus emerged in early 2020. But the outbreak and the limitations it imposed on travel was a natural accelerator for digital solutions in shipping.
Biswell explains: “We have been starting to utilise remote support more actively to provide services to our customers. For example, we may have our own service engineer onboard, but they may not be a specialist in every area. Through remote support based on augmented reality (AR) goggle technology we have been able to guide our local people to support whatever task they had to execute.”
Another area in which SLS has been using remote support is in surveys such as those needed to take measurements before retrofitting work is carried out on shaft lines. While COVID has made it difficult for companies to send experts around the world, remote support means that either customers or local representatives can ensure that preparations for maintenance work can go ahead.