When the coronavirus prevented on-site installation of a Wärtsilä Retractable Thruster—the WST-24R, Wärtsilä came up with a way to install the part remotely, showing that the company is ready to support clients even during these challenging times.
When travel from the Netherlands was shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year, a Wärtsilä team working with the VARD shipyard in Romania to install a first-of-its kind WST-24R thruster for a client needed to innovate, and quickly. With the chief engineer, Propulsion Superintendent and other key Wärtsilä personnel unable to travel to the shipyard, it became necessary to find a way for Wärtsilä to support the thruster installation remotely. Ultimately, the success of the WST-24R thruster’s remote installation demonstrates both Wärtsilä’s strength as a partner to clients and the viability of remote installation for Wärtsilä products even after the pandemic subsides.
Jan Houdijk, Propulsion Superintendent, Field Service, Wärtsilä was the main engineer for this installation. He recalls the circumstances leading up to the decision to coordinate a remote installation.
“On 15 March, I was getting ready to depart [for the VARD shipyard in Romania], but on the day of departure, the covid-19 travel ban became active and my visit was cancelled in less than a minute. As the yard was on a tight schedule to deliver the vessel to the commissioning teams, Wärtsilä Norway, Wärtsilä Finland, and the yard mutually addressed the need to deliver, regardless.”
Kai Koski, Senior Project Manager, Wärtsilä, highlighted the urgency of the installation.
“The alternative [to installing the thruster remotely] would have been to wait for the pandemic to end, which would have meant a serious delay to the project—this was simply not an alternative,” Koski says.
Vincent Klous, Senior Manager R&D and Platform Development, Thrusters, Wärtsilä, says that along with close collaboration, support “from all parts of the organisation” was key to the installation’s success. From a technological perspective, multiple cameras were used in the thruster room and other locations where Wärtsilä needed to have visibility into the yard. There was also a 24/7 livestream so the Wärtsilä team could constantly monitor the yard’s actions. Communications took place via phone and WhatsApp, and the Wärtsilä team guided the yard step-by-step through the thruster installation.
However, even with constant communication and multiple camera views, there were still challenges.
“You can’t always see everything. The main challenge is to get open, good communication, so it’s very important that the yard show everything that they’re doing,” Klous says. “If there are challenges, it’s important that everybody is aware. And, of course, the guidance in difficult parts was a challenge. Since this was a very new product, some unexpected things could happen which were not foreseen.”
“One of my main goals during my remote support assistance was the health and safety of the yard workers working with this new equipment. Daily HSE meetings and risk assessments were carried out to ensure yards understanding of safe working conditions” Jan Houdijk says.
Thanks to the strong report support, the installation went quite smoothly overall. “All in all, we had only very minor things which we could easily solve and this installation went very smoothly,” says Klous.
This positive view of the installation is shared by the end customer.
“We were impressed by the Wärtsilä team’s ability to complete the job despite Covid-19,” said a client spokesman. “The high level of competence provided by VARD, Wärtsilä experts’ high-calibre support, and the plug-and-play nature of the WST-24R thruster were all essential in enabling the thruster’s installation, even without Wärtsilä on-site.”
As the client noted, the WST-24R thruster’s plug-and-play design was an important factor in its successful installation despite the lack of on-site Wärtsilä experts.
“In the past, these thrusters were delivered in multiple sub-assemblies that you need to put together inside the vessel, and the yard needed to do all the alignment, installation, and checking,” Klous explains. “For this new type, we designed it as a plug-and-play package. We completely assemble and align the unit in our factory. We put it in a transportation and alignment frame to hold it together, deliver it as a complete unit, and the yard only needs to install it in the vessel and secure it. This greatly reduces the time and effort needed for the yard to install the thruster.”
As Wärtsilä experts were unable to be present on site, the plug-and-play design and virtual support from Wärtsilä meant less complexity and reduced resource required, which was arguably a major factor in the installation’s success.
The success of the installation could open up new opportunities for Wärtsilä even after the immediate threat of Covid-19 passes. While noting that remote installations wouldn’t be possible with all customers, Koski recognises that remote installations reduce both time and travel and could “be a way forward in the future” for clients with whom Wärtsilä has pre-existing relationships, such as VARD.
As Wärtsilä and its customers evolve their businesses to include new ways of working both during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, the success of the WST-24R thruster installation proves Wärtsilä’s ability to deliver components in a timely manner
despite logistical challenges. In the future, the ability to install thrusters and more without requiring all members of the Wärtsilä team to be on site may be needed again; based on the WST-24R thruster’s successful installation, Wärtsilä’s
clients can conclude that it is up to the challenge.