Q & A

Dr. Harald Stricker, Vice President Engineering for Turbomachinery at MAN Diesel & Turbo, discusses standardization and tightening markets.

Can you give me an overview of MAN’s turbomachinery business?

MAN Diesel & Turbo offers a comprehensive range of turbomachinery. Our company carries the heritage of brands like GHH, Sulzer, Babcock Borsig or Blohm & Voss. Our customer base consists of all big players in oil and gas, the process industry, power generation and regional utilities. We provide single turbomachines or complete trains for almost every industrial application that is connected to pressure and power.

What’s in the pipeline for new turbines or compressors?

The successful commissioning of the world’s first subsea compressor some month ago was a breakthrough for MAN’s sealed technology. This entailed a decade of development work, and we are now working on more standardized packages for this demanding application. We also commissioned the first AR-MAX1 axial compressor.

Surge tests on our test bed and at a customer site were conducted without any adverse effect on blade stresses. We recently tested a one million m3/h unit, and have 19 trains sold. We are now qualifying the MAX1 technology for other applications, mainly in the downstream sector. Lastly, our youngest gas turbine series, the MGT, has gained a foothold in the 6 MW class. Further members of this technology family are in the pipeline.

Any acquisition news?

Last year, we bought a mid-size Indian steam turbine manufacturer. That means we can combine German-Swiss quality with a strong basis of local suppliers and local knowledge about products for more standardized applications.

What are trends towards standardization?

For those who have been in the industry for years, standardization of components, machines or complete trains is nothing new. But the current market situation places stronger emphasis on it. This might have a salutary effect to the whole industry. It is especially true for the turbomachinery world that engineers love to build everything new and unique. So a consistent understanding of standardization means a different way of thinking. In addition to maximum performance of the machinery, our development teams are asked for easy ways of technology implementation, as customers are focusing more on a plug-and-play logic, on fast delivery, erection and commissioning.

Where do you see drivers of this standardization trend?

Most turbomachinery OEMs, including ourselves, arose from mergers and acquisitions, so there is a need to integrate different design approaches. Standardization and modularization are a healthy way to do so. But standardization is also driven by the current state of the markets. Considering low oil prices and many projects being under pressure, there is an intense need for quick and cost-effective solutions. This could be a turning point for engineering departments. Fully engineered high-tech solutions provided on an individual basis will continue to exist, but with a clearer focus on the economic aspect.

Which MAN products illustrate this trend?

Take some of our barrel-type compressors. By standardizing components and modules, we reduced engineering efforts by more than two-thirds, without any concessions in terms of performance or customized design. Another example is the Upstream Package engineered and built at MAN’s Swiss site in Zurich. This package is available in five sizes, consisting of a barrel compressor with electric motor and gearbox in a pre-engineered set-up for offshore and onshore applications. One of the strongest examples is our Refinery Train Package. Consisting of a centrifugal compressor and a steam turbine, this package combines products in three standard frame sizes that fit a vast number of projects within the refinery business. An example is the positioning of the compressor’s support brackets on the base frame being predefined. If the project requires additional compressor stages, the casing is enlarged along the non-driven end. Interfaces between the compressor and base frame are fixed without limiting customer value. Individually designed high-end turbomachinery and the principles of a model kit are no longer a contradiction.

Is standardization the cure all?

Surely not, as manufacturing turbomachines will always be an art of project-oriented engineering. But the intensified need for standardization may be less of a threat to high-end solutions than it is a push in the right direction for engineering departments. It’s not just our customers that will profit from this trend. If we get it right and allow ourselves a different way of thinking, this opens up the opportunity to design even better equipment.

Perhaps we should even take training courses at other industries, such as car manufacturing where lot sizes come together with the highest standards in efficiency and safety. Standardization and modularization do not have to mean a decrease in technological innovation or engineering skill. On the contrary, it is about finding the best individual solution, while considering its scope of applicability. That might sound simplistic, but it implies a shift in mindset for a development engineer.