Engineering at Sea: Mr. Johansson, you’re stepping up into this position with a wealth of experience behind you. Could you briefly explain your time at SKF so far?
David Johansson: It all starts back in 2004, when I conducted an in-depth study of the South Korean shipbuilding industry—which was booming at the time. I got the opportunity to get into the details of the industry, meet a majority of the local players and eventually, after some talks about the global marine opportunities, joined SKF at the end of 2005. The aim was to introduce marine as a potential growth segment within the group.
From then until around 2014, I held several project and management positions in the marine segment at SKF in Gothenburg, Sweden. This included managing the integration of SKF and Blohm & Voss in 2013 to form SKF Marine. During 2015 and 2016, I had the chance to work across other SKF industries in the area of strategic marketing and the overall go-to-market approach. Then, by the end of last year, as Martin Johannsmann became the Director of SKF industrial sales in Central Europe and Russia, I was asked to return to marine and take on the role of Director for the marine business unit of SKF.
And, on a personal level, what originally attracted you to the marine industry?
First of all, I’ve always been interested in globalization and working with people from different countries and backgrounds. And the marine industry is great for that—it is truly global. But as far-reaching as the industry is, it also feels intimate—like you are part of a close-knit community. People even refer to it as a club. You get the chance to work closely with companies and people in the value chain to achieve your targets.
Is this something that makes the industry unique?
It sets us apart to some extent. But really it’s more about the unique challenges we face. If you compare it to the other industries in which SKF is active, marine is quite different. Due to the fact that ships are sailing around the world, reliability is a of course a must. But so is the availability of expert advice onboard or onshore, helping safeguard operations. At the same time, to solve our customers’ challenges, we of course take inspiration from our other industries—such as wind power, oil & gas and heavy industries—and apply it to the specific conditions of the marine industry.
There’s a lot of talk about the marine industry being in a crisis. How do you see the situation?
Yes, we are facing tough times—especially in shipbuilding. If you look at the number of ships being ordered, it’s at a near-record low. So of course, some companies are suffering. But on the other hand, the world’s fleet is slowly growing to support global trade, which means there are still many aftermarket opportunities. Companies with strong service capabilities are in a better position.
We’re also experiencing major consolidation—affecting shipyards in particular, but also shipowners. And I would expect this to continue for another one or two years before we are out of the storm completely. We are coming towards the end of the crisis, but there are still many questions marks to straighten out.
So how can the industry recover?
Personally, I have no doubts that shipping will get back on track. And even in these challenging times, you can look at specific sub-segments, like the cruise sector. This particular area is hitting record highs right now, presenting many opportunities across the industry and for companies like SKF.
Of course, it will be interesting to see how all this affects the structure of the industry going forward. Everyone’s doing all they can to position themselves for the long-awaited upturn. Shipowners are optimizing their operations, trying out new ways of working with their supply chain, and forming new alliances. OEMs, too, are improving the design of their systems in order to be competitive. It’s a strange situation. In some ways, the industry is busier as a result of the crisis. The technology development is rapid.
What role will SKF Marine play in this?
As I’ve said, there’s a general trend towards looking for closer collaboration and reliable partners. Fragmented supplier bases are transforming into a preferred partner setup. We want to step into that role and help our customers improve availability and performance of rotating equipment. To do this, we will provide expert advice and consulting based on our strong engineering capabilities and related product and service portfolios.
When it comes to innovations, our approach is to enable and support shipowners on their digitization journey. It’s all about transforming big data aboard vessels into valuable insights. Condition monitoring and condition-based maintenance, which we’ve been working on since 2007, are now more important than ever.
Finally, looking at the year ahead, what major events can we look forward to in 2017?
For us, the big three will be Nor-Shipping, Kormarine, and Marintec China. We’ll be launching several new products and innovations at these exhibitions, related to the above-mentioned industry trends and customers’ needs. And of course, we’re taking part in a lot of smaller local events. It’s definitely going to be an exciting year.
Stay tuned for our next interview with David Johansson, where we’ll be discussing future maritime trends.