Stephan Timmermann: A quiet revolution

30 May 2014
Stephan Timmermann: We are in the middle of a revolution even if many people are only just beginning to be aware of it

Stephan Timmermann: We are in the middle of a revolution even if many people are only just beginning to be aware of it

“Despite people sometimes thinking you are crazy if you talk about a real and fundamental change, you have to realise how far everyone, not just the maritime business, but the whole world has come,” says Stephan Timmermann of MAN Diesel & Turbo SE.

“Given this I don’t try to convince anyone. You can only ask people to let you try something out, and then get together over a glass or two later and ask ‘is it working?’”

Some changes seem more obvious than others but many take on clarity only in retrospect. “In the old days everything was about flashy new products and after sales was a tiny, neglected corner,” says Dr Timmermann. “But business means taking care of the people who are completely reliant on your engines, both for their lives and their livelihood - especially these days when losing a charter to downtime can mean going out of existence.”

He has been the motivating force behind MAN’s global, PrimeServ after-sales service which now commands 40% of MAN’s turnover, but his eye is on both the near and long term futures.

We are in the middle of a revolution, points out Dr Timmermann, even if many people are only just beginning to be aware of it: “The internet has changed how we shop, how we make decisions, even how we date,” he says. It is beginning to change maritime maintenance strategies through shore-based monitoring but the scope is broad indeed. “In the very near future you will be scanning an engine part with an iPhone or iPad, this will link directly to a website that will locate it, order it, and even give you your discount.” Indeed, with a push from Mr Timmermann, MAN is already printing automatically recognisable matrix coding onto its parts for a webshop now under development. There’s a couple of wins attached to this: firstly it promises to keep pirated parts out of the loop, and secondly, environmental audits become easier “as the engine will be performing to the level the class societies intended”.

Environmental technology is proving to be a major driver “and the future is almost certainly dual fuel,” says Dr Timmermann. While it probably won’t be a necessity for the big container ships themselves on the high seas, the impact will certainly be felt first on their supporting feeder vessels in coastal areas and ECA zones. Here, you have a wide variation in loads, so he is also betting that the high pressure engine varieties will gain ground as these combine real fuel flexibility with avoiding issues like methane slip “something which is beginning to be discussed more now as these unburnt fuels can be twenty times as polluting as NOx”.

However, he admits that the uneven regulatory climate is causing issues for the whole shipping community. “The worst thing for business is differentiated regulation. This forces us to develop and fit engines to certain standards for US ships, while Europe has yet another ruling. We would love it if everything could be standardised, but the way it seems, the world simply isn’t necessarily working to our agenda....”

Despite this the sometimes challenging nature of environmental legislation there are opportunities. “At the moment we feel there’s something of an upturn, but the key drivers are ecology and economy, both going hand in hand – after all, the less fuel you burn, the less carbon residuals you emit”, says Dr Timmermann.

It’s had other benefits too for MAN’s licensees who got hit hard by the recession. “Luckily there was a big order book to take up some of the slack but our job is to provide them with cutting edge technology. This is where the ‘G series’, slow moving, long stroke engines, have helped – all of which are going into the new generation of eco-ships,” he says, adding the gas fired GI models take the technology to a next level.

Interestingly, PrimServ has a training arm which could potentially serve another purpose. “We all know the big bottlenecks are skills and qualifications; this is why we have started to ramp up our PrimeServ academies to take on local training – we already have a dozen facilities globally distributed and there will be more.”

However, he adds there’s a truly revolutionary possibility that springs from having a source of trained, validated engineers, and so he asks: “As it’s a given that the technology is getting more and more complicated to safeguard and most of the time the owners rent crews from agencies, why not take advantage of OEM training and provide someone who knows the engines thoroughly?” Potentially engine manufacturers could supply a specialised technician along with the hardware, he says.

“Of course all this is ‘looking out of the window’... but what is certain is business models are changing - rapidly”. Dr Timmermann concludes: “For sure innovations like this will be subject to a slow ramp up, but I believe the big key customers will lead the way, as they will recognise and get behind any solid, risk-avoidance strategies, which raises profit and serves the environment.”

By Stevie Knight

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