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Plain sailing

The importance of effective project management

Marine engineering projects are often very complex and large in scope. The number of people involved, globality, and duration of projects all mean that everyone involved must maintain a comprehensive overview. Project management plays a crucial role—and it should always be considered when choosing a supplier.

When an OEM or shipyard sends a technical request to a supplier, the supplier will set up an engineering team to develop a product to their customer’s specifications. As solutions frequently comprise many different products, or are even custom-made, the customer often requires advice to find exactly what they are looking for. A common challenge is that the customer does not have sufficient time to search for a suitable solution, and reaching out to four or five different engineering communities for an answer takes too long. Therefore, one of the supplier’s core responsibilities is to talk to the customer, assess the situation and specific tasks, and see where they can provide support.

A new development of a propulsion sub-system can take around 300 days from start until delivery of first samples, depending on resource allocation for starting the project.

Communication is the driver of success

From an OEM’s point of view, having a central point of contact for a project is extremely beneficial. Aside from saving considerable time and effort, it also ensures that both parties have a comprehensive picture of the work to be completed and the deadlines involved. Instead of travelling around the world to meet multiple suppliers, the customer can take part in regular alignment meetings to review the design, collaborate, and build a relationship with the supplier.

Frequent communication means that both parties stay up to date with any changes to project requirements and the impact that these might have. In addition to design reviews, regular web conferences, phone calls, and online document sharing are also crucial. Of course, all documents must be treated with utmost care. In addition to online communications, particularly in the early stages of a partnership, the OEM may want to visit the supplier’s production facilities to gain reassurance about the quality, safety, and equipment of the factory.

Close collaboration and communication are two of the most important success factors in any business partnership. But different companies have different ways of working. A good project manager is able to unite these two worlds—supplier and customer—to keep the project running smoothly from start to finish.

Sami Kontturi, Project Manager for Marine Industry, SKF Group

Transparency is essential

The supplier needs to know when the customer will approve a design so that resources can be allocated accordingly. Change management is crucial in avoiding costly delays and wasted efforts. In this respect, any likely setbacks, obstacles, or alterations need to be communicated in good time to allow for readjustment. While it is not always possible to accurately estimate a cost from the very outset, the supplier should be able to provide a price range and zero in on an exact figure as the project moves forward.

Suppliers also require full traceability. If a component fails in a bearing or a lubrication system, the supplier must be able to provide records and serial numbers. This way, they can prove that every single component in the product meets the specifications of the classification society that approved it, thus keeping the customer safe in potential liability cases.

Valuable qualities of a supplier in the maritime industry

  • Industry expertise and experience
  • Local sales and engineering staff to facilitate communication
  • Flexibility to adapt to unforeseen events
  • Clearly structured team and defined responsibilities
  • Traceability and transparency throughout the project

Developing a trusted partnership for diverse needs

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to marine engineering projects. Every vessel is unique—even sister ships can have different technical requirements and therefore require adjusted equipment or customized solutions. With a single, reliable supplier for components, systems, and services, customers can be sure that they receive a final product that is high quality and fit for purpose—no matter the situation.