You probably don’t know this, but my family lived in Hamburg, Germany, when I was little. Some of my best memories are of going with my Dad to the Port of Hamburg and crawling around ships with him on a Saturday. Memories are tricky, though: I probably got to do a little bit of exploring then had milk and cookies with a crew member while my Dad worked, but still. Fond memories of both Hamburg and its Port … So when Siemens invited me to visit its stand at the biennial SMM trade fair, I jumped at the chance.

SMM stands for Shipbuilding, Machinery and Marine technology and brings together over 2000 exhibitors from around the world to show off their wares to 50,000 attendees. It’s so big that it’s hard to describe: the fair covers 90,000 square meters (a US football field is 5,300 m², so SMM covered roughly 17 football fields). Exhibitors are organized into product categories (shipyards here, paint vendors over there, safety gear in another Hall, and so on) or in country pavilions. This picture, from the fair organizers, gives a tiny glimpse of how big and crowded the event was:

SMM 2014,HALLENÜBERSICHT B3

It was overwhelming. On the one hand, we hear so much about the crisis in shipbuilding, with many yards operating at less than 100% for the last five or six years because there’s more capacity than demand for goods to be shipped. No demand means low prices, which means little new building. But everywhere I looked, booths were filled with people doing deals — hunched over little tables at the back of the booth, scribbling on pieces of paper, no idle chat here. I wandered the floor for nearly 3 hours, speaking with whoever wanted to sell me something and learned that even if new building isn’t happening at the large, cargo ship level, there’s an incredible amount of activity to boost fuel efficiency and reduce emissions for existing vessels, improve crew training and safety, and help with compliance with international laws and regulations. Small ships, ferries and offshore tenders, cruise ships, offshore platforms — these all continue to be built and are seeing some of the innovations that used to come to the largest ship projects first.

Why was Siemens at SMM? To solidify its position with these critical customers.

It’s been selling into the marine industry for a very long time — one of its marketing pieces says that Siemens “supplied lighting systems for ships and introduced electricity on board” as early as 1879. “Siemens devices were soon being used for navigation, machine control and ventilation … [Eventually, with diesel propulsion systems,] Siemens technology spread to the whole of the ship: from the generation and distribution of electrical energy to drives for winches and steering gear and the main propulsion system.”

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The company isn’t content to simply let the past predict its future. At SMM, Siemens’ gigantic booth showcased quite a few new products from its Drive Technologies business, with electric and hybrid drives, controllers, and operational and monitoring solutions as well as PLM Software. A highlight of the exhibit was the new diesel/electric eSiPod propulsion system (left), which is an entire engine-plus-shaft-plus-propeller setup for ships that have very tight space constraints. Siemens’ Bert Geissler said that this generation of the eSiPod is more efficient and has an expanded power range than its predecessors. It fits into Siemens’ overall strategy to cut ships’ emissions and improve environmental compliance.

Siemens told us all about the different types of drives it sells into the marine industry –small, medium, large, diesel, hybrid, and so on — but I think the magic comes in the integration with software. Ships are intricate webs of hardware and the systems that monitor and operate them; Siemens’ EcoMAIN, for example, is a hardware/software combo that collects field data from the ship’s systems, regardless of who supplied them, consolidates it all into a common format and stores it in a database. Once you’ve got it, the possibilities are endless: plan maintenance the next time the ship is in port; optimize for greater efficiency using real data and not theoretical; fine-tune drivetrain other systems for the next iteration.

Earlier this month, Siemens and NAPA announced that EcoMAIN is integrated with NAPA Logbook to provide real-time (assuming satellite coverage) awareness of vessel operations to staff on shore. A ship’s logbook is its bible; everything about the ship’s operation is entered there both to ease crew shift handover and to record what happens for later perusal by regulators and classification societies. NAPA Logbook automates this data collection, making it easier and less error-prone than human logging.

So we’ve captured ship operating conditions and are reporting this in real-time to shore-based crews. Let’s combine this with some reality computing: Staff in port can better plan and rehearse their activities because they’ll know the exact location of each part/system that needs maintenance. If there’s something funky about unloading, say trying to shift a megayacht, that can be planned, too.

Siemens PLM plays an important role in all of this, as its Shipbuilding Catalyst helps users customize the product portfolio for marine use cases. We think of it as applying most to new building scenarios, which it does, but there it also a significant case to be made for operations: planning, lining up the necessary technical publications/manuals (digital or in paper), managing assets and spares, tracking, recording and taking corrective action in case of failures — all integrated with supplier management and their data needs. At the 3D level, we can use a CAD model of the ship, if that exists, or a laser scanned or photogrammetry point cloud to derive the as-is condition of the ship and its cargo for maintenance or refit projects.

What I didn’t get a sense of is how Siemens presents its huge offering to marine industry prospects. Say you’re designing a new ship and need a diesel engine. Siemens is clearly on your short list. But does the rep who calls about the engine also sell the benefits of having the CAD data for the engine? Perhaps as a black box or as a 1D LMS.ImagineLab model? Does the PLM sales guy working with a naval architect or shipyard have insight into the drive train needs of the project? Can he help his colleague sell that, presuming the decision is still not made?

Beyond the sales cycle, these projects create reams of information, some of it useful in other processes. Once the ship is in service, is the data captured with EcoMAIN fed back into the design for maintenance planning or design modifications? Is there a link between EcoMAIN and Teamcenter? At the Siemens PLM analyst event a few weeks ago, CEO Chuck Grindstaff told us that his customers will eventually harvest gigabytes of data in the connected world; here’s a perfect example from within Siemens.

To some extent, it seems that Siemens is still trying to figure out how to leverage the PLM part of the business and is letting it operate on its own where that makes sense — but the marine industry has so many opportunities that I can’t help wondering if there are more than they can take advantage of now.

One last thing. My Dad worked for Hamburg Süd, a shipping company that formed in 1871 to move cargo between Europe, Asia and Latin America. I am told that it is today one of the world’s 20 largest container shipping lines. At SMM, I learned that Hamburg Süd is owned by the Oetker family, famous for the Dr. Oetker line of pudding and sauce mixes. I wonder if I had Dr. Oetker goodies when I hung out at to the Port of Hamburg all those years ago? Yum.

Note: Siemens graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.

Photo credits: Top image, of the hall: Copyright Foto HMC / Romanus Fuhrmann-Rickert; bottom image of Siemens booth: Copyright Michael Zapf. Both courtesy of Hamburg Messe and Congress