Talking digital change with the head of MAN Energy Solutions’ PrimeServ division in Copenhagen offers a unique perspective on how the digital revolution has changed the world of aftermarket engine services.
Michael Petersen has been working with MAN in a service role for nearly 21 years, putting him in prime position to watch first-hand the shifts that digitalisation is creating within the marine engine repair business.
MAN will tackle the subject of digitalisation at SMM 2018 in Hamburg at its Future perspectives of digitisation seminar – MAN has opted to use the term digitisation instead of digitalisation to describe the uptake of digital technologies.
For one thing, Mr Petersen said technology is moving repair work from its traditional position as an onboard duty carried out by crew into the hands of the engine manufacturer and other specialists.
“If you go back many years ago, we did not deliver so many standard maintenance services because [repair work] was actually done by the crew,” Mr Petersen said.
“I would say if you compare to 21 years ago, … maintenance issues are [no longer] solved by the crew onboard. It is a combination of our services and our competencies guiding or helping the crew more than it was before.”
It is not that mechanical engineering expertise has been lost on board, he said, but that the technological complexities surrounding marine engines have increased to such a degree that even traditional mechanical repair requires computerised assistance.
Citing an obvious example of an industry that has been quicker to embrace digital change, Mr Petersen said the shipping industry “is still a conservative business, and it just takes time to influence … the car industry was there 20 years ago.”
The customer’s needs – be they a desire for competitive advantage or a requirement to comply with new regulations – are, as always, the driving factor underpinning the shipping industry’s digital revolution, Mr Petersen said, but it’s a revolution that has been comparatively slow in coming.
“You can say the shipping industry or the marine business … has changed the same way but just 20 years later,” he said.
Mr Petersen said that – while crew working on board vessels at sea had been required to learn new skills – it was the “guys like” him, who had “grown up with less complexity” in marine engineering and who were now sitting in shipping company head offices who had had to undergo a shift in thinking to understand the impacts of digital technologies within the maritime sector.
“It is a mindset change for all of us, actually, and that takes time,” he said.
The business model for an aftermarket service specialist like himself, he said, had grown in complexity in tandem with the shipping industry’s digital offerings and the physical shifts in engine technology required to meet emissions regulations.
“We are changing from totally standard aftersales services like standard technical services, to an aftersale that handles more complex solutions in a way, both on the digital side but also on the physical side, if we are talking fuel optimisation, legislation around the environment,” he said.
“There you can say our aftersales business changed. Instead of delivering standard products, now we are delivering complex solutions on total conversion of an engine from fuel to gas as an example.”
For Mr Petersen, the dynamics – digital and physical – that are moving the industry have myriad impacts to his role as vice president. In addition to the previously mentioned mindset change from management, he said requests from customers had become focused on individual, tailored solutions to fit their individual fleets.
His response, he said, has been to listen more carefully to his customers as well as to focus on creating cost efficiencies within repair services and parts supply chains.
“Sitting in a business meeting where you only talk discounts and so on, it doesn’t bring us any further. What brings us further is actually looking at the total value chain and looking at it so we can optimise in different places,” he said.
That kind of thinking, Mr Petersen said “is a win/win; it is in our common interest. Of course, if [MAN] can gain some cost savings it helps us in being competitive, but in the end it will benefit the customer either through increased availability or a lower cost [for parts or labour].”
It is the ability to respond to these new and more complex questions the customer is asking that, perhaps, represents the biggest shift in Mr Petersen’s side of the industry.
To effectively meet customer requests, he has been hiring younger, more digital savvy employees internally, and he has been building an external network of specialist suppliers.
“The business has changed a lot in the way the customers use us more as consultants than they have done before,” he said.
What allows MAN to act as consultants is, again, down to technological advances, he said.
“Today we are at a point where we can share a screen but in the very near future we will have virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality so we actually can use the technology to visualise what is happening in the engine,” he said.
And the decreasing cost barrier to connectivity at sea is what will allow diagnosticians to consult with crew on board from an office on land.
“A satellite connection is there and has been there for many years. But the cost has been a barrier, and that is going down now,” he said.
Taking the analogy further, Mr Petersen echoed the opinion expressed by MAN Energy Solutions chief technology officer Gerhard Stix who said it is essential for the industry to be operating on a shared platform.
“Today it is either the Samsung system or the iPhone system,” Mr Petersen said. “You have two standards in a way. Here I think the industry needs to sit down and agree [on one] platform, say ‘this is the platform we are working on and everybody can develop their apps and even if we are working as competitors we can work on the same platform,’” he said.
Mr Petersen likened the work carried out by PrimeServ to smart phone applications that had been created to serve the mobile phone hardware that is MAN’s line up of engines in his analogy.
Again, Mr Petersen said the road to a single platform solution required care and consideration, particularly in the realm of data sharing, another aspect of technology with which he said it would take time for the industry to find acceptance.
“I think the chance is there for us to actually show that the more we share data, the more advances the industry will have, and the more competitive [owners and operators] will be on their operational expenditures, as an example,” he said.
“That is where I think we need to start working with data sharing and convincing each other this is of a mutual benefit ... I think it is that development of trust [that is needed].”
Mr Petersen said he believes the first agreements involving data sharing will be around maintenance contracts because they will allow MAN PrimeServ to offer a fixed price for routine maintenance over a certain time period.
Having access to performance monitoring data and servicing the ship only when it needs servicing, he said, means vessels are in operation more often and down for maintenance and repair less often.
“Creating this trust in between us as a supplier and the customer, that is extremely important,” he said. “That is maybe where you can say that [accepting technological changes] requires some time, that is for sure, you need to trust that everybody is in this for doing business.”
MAN Energy solutions will be holding a series of seminars at SMM 2018 in Hamburg. Digitalisation will be discussed along with decarbonisation and energy efficiency.
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