Independent providers of parts and services are often cheaper than their OEM equivalents, but that’s not the only reason to use them
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) offer a degree of confidence in their services and parts that have long encouraged users to shun cheaper alternatives. They also provide important warranties and guarantees, providing their parts are used. But when engines are no longer covered by OEM warranties and guarantees, independent providers can offer a number of benefits.
Royston chief executive Sarah Wade explains says: “We have long-standing relationships with the major high- and medium-speed diesel engine manufacturers. Royston has official status with OEM and all parts used on engine repair, maintenance and overhaul work are genuine and sourced through official OEM supply chains, eliminating worries over the use of inferior, ’grey market’ or counterfeit components.”
Independent providers can buy parts in bulk at discounted prices, which are passed onto the customer. Furthermore, these companies build up a raft of expertise across manufacturers, and hold parts, spares, tools and technical manuals for engines that may be nearing obsolescence.
And to remove any fears over competence, companies like Royston have invested heavily in training: “Considerable and ongoing investment ensures that engineers are properly trained and fully qualified to OEM standards and can be relied upon to have the technical expertise needed to carry out all engine work efficiently and effectively,” says Ms Wade. “The availability of suitably experienced and skilled service engineers is a key consideration and one which the OEMs can find challenging,” she adds.
Independent service providers often have expertise on many different engine types, and their associated turbocharger and fuel injection components, and so have the technical capability to work across whole fleets, rather than being restricted to one type of engine system. This ability to work across different vessels enables the independent to build up greater compatibility with ship operators’ maintenance systems, procurement processes and operational schedules.
This in turn helps co-ordination of the service schedule across a range of different equipment in the fleet: “Fleet owners cannot afford to have their vessels standing idle and must have them available for work,” says Ms Wade. “This places the onus on routine engine maintenance schedules to be fully optimised and planned very carefully. With customers having their own service account manager and dedicated support at every stage, independent suppliers are often well placed to provide this.”
One innovation that is expected to revolutionise engine and propulsion system maintenance is 3D printing. Wärtsilä recently opened a 3D metal-printing research facility in Vaasa, Finland, next door to its ship engine design workspace. The Wärtsilä 3D metal-printing facility is currently used to produce prototypes of internal parts for engines.
The University of Maine has gone one step further. Under a contract with the US military, it has designed and built a full-scale 3D printing machine that manufactures small river boats in just two days. This has significant implications for military logistics; instead of flying boats and other military materiel to the conflict zone, these can be printed ready for use on location.
Online e-procurement portal for marine spares and equipment, ShipParts.com, is taking part in a project to investigate how 3D printing could revolutionise the way in which spare parts are procured and delivered. The company says that digitalising procurement processes can cut order processing time for spare parts by 80%, a key consideration for the marine industry, where reducing off-hire time for ships is critical.
Shipparts.com chief growth officer Roy Yap foresees an even greater saving of time in the near future: “Parts can be produced on demand, close to demand location, bypassing the time-consuming logistics, storage, shipping and customs procedures,” he says.
Shipparts.com does not intend to become a 3D printing company itself; rather it will partner with existing and future specialists in or near ports around the world. So rather than Shipparts.com sourcing a part and sending it to the customer, it would provide secure digital files to a 3D printing specialist near to the customer, reducing logistics.
Mr Yap refers to a triangle of cost, quality and speed: “If our manufacturers have to send a part from an origin factory where it is made to the destination port or shipyard where the customer needs it, then there are costs involved. If we just send the secure data to a 3D manufacturing hub at the port or shipyard, where the data can be verified and the part produced, the customer can receive the parts within a much shorter lead time.”
Another benefit of the 3D printed model is the significant reduction in emissions, particularly carbon emissions. Not only could energy consumption from the manufacturing process be reduced, but the entire logistics chain streamlined, resulting in fewer emissions from transportation.
Mr Yap says: “Cost is not an object in emergency cases, where a ship may be immobilised owing to a critical spare. The speedier response offered by 3D printing will improve uptime, improving revenue (charter hire) and reducing costs.” Citing pump impellers as an example, Mr Yap says these readily lend themselves to 3D printing and with a multitude of different sizes and designs, holding stock of a full range of impellers is not cost effective. But the ability to manufacture on demand means the right part can be available anywhere, quickly. It is fast-moving parts like these that show the most potential for 3D printing.