Jim Marnoch, SKF on the supply chain’s role in cost reduction

Component manufacturers are as keen as anyone for tidal to gain full momentum. Here Jim Marnoch, ocean energy manager at SKF (UK) Limited, offers up his views on what the supply chain can do to help encourage faster development in the tidal industry.

By Jason Deign on Oct 15, 2014

Q: What are the main problems facing the tidal supply chain at the moment?

A: I believe a big problem, or let’s say challenge, is the expectation of technology developers that suppliers will provide strongly engineered, robust and reliable solutions that help demonstrate prototypes can survive and work reliably in the harshest sea water environments, but at cost levels where only established industries, such as onshore wind can be.

Despite suppliers transferring synergistic knowledge and technologies, the cost base for the marine versus ocean market is totally different.

If you take the example of a mechanical seal, ship operators are more aware of the consequences should the seal fail, and are therefore willing to spend the money.

Another dilemma for suppliers is do we offer our ‘Rolls-Royce’ solution, which may be over-engineered for the application, when we can propose a more cost-effective solution, that is less refined or ‘agricultural’, from another sector, but would be fit for purpose.

Cost already has a very high focus in prototype projects and there is a feeling or impression amongst suppliers that costs are the first priority and functionality or reliability are of secondary importance.

With no medium and long-term testing experience, this could be a very risky approach and turn out to be expensive for technology developers.

Q: How can the supply chain help reduce the cost of tidal development?

A: We can help by transferring technologies from synergistic industries, such as marine, wind, hydro, oil and gas.

Also we can help through the use of existing capacities and making use of economies of scale, for example, with the use of marine or wind energy products, which are already being manufactured in larger lot sizes.

Finally there is the option for technology investment and subsidies offered in early prototype projects.

Q: To what extent are supply chain initiatives dependent on greater momentum in the tidal industry? What are the external factors that impinge on your ability to plan effectively for large-scale tidal deployment?

A: The long-term political framework needs to be set to ensure long-term investments and strategies from suppliers. Currently there are still big question marks here.

When you hear some Westminster leaders and politicians making derogatory statements about green energy, this doesn't help the cause.

Q: What specific projects is SKF working on that could cut costs in tidal? Which areas can you contribute to most effectively?

A: With the remoteness and inaccessibility of the machines, I believe effective condition monitoring systems will have a big role to play when it comes to small and large-scale array operations and maintenance.

These will contribute greatly to reducing total cost of ownership and have a positive impact on cost of energy.

Q: What are the main challenges facing these projects?

A: Acceptance by technology developers of the value to be gained by implementation of the most technically advanced online condition monitoring systems, which have already proven their value in other synergistic industries.

Also, to convince developers that there are real benefits to outsourcing remote diagnostic services to specialist companies like SKF who have vast rotating machinery knowledge and experience.

There is a tendency for some developers to take a very simplistic view on condition monitoring and diagnostics.

In the North Sea oil and gas sector, oil and gas companies shifted away from handling condition monitoring in-house many years ago, preferring to outsource to companies like ourselves.

We need to do a better job when it comes to increasing customer awareness that SKF can offer much more than just being the ‘bearing guys’.

We do our best to spread the message about our platform capabilities in seals, lubrication systems, services and mechatronics.

Also we have the relevant synergies from SKF-acquired companies, such as Blohm & Voss Industries, who bring a wealth of experience in sealing applications in marine environments.

Q: What needs to happen to overcome these challenges?

A: I believe there needs to be more open and serious discussions with device developers. It should become less of a supplier-contractor relationship and more of a technical-sharing partnership approach.

I believe we can bring a lot of value to these development projects, but sometimes this is not recognised or acknowledged as much as it should or could be.