“In the medium and higher space, our biggest challenges I would lump into three categories,” begins Jon Jackson, product director of Caterpillar Marine. “I would say number one is integration. The second is a bit more of a pure engine play relating to power density, and the third aspect we are working on is what I call digitalisation, but it has to do with making sure we’re connecting assets, or at least making that option available to customers.”
Jackson says that Caterpillar is currently working on multiple projects integrating the engine, transmission and propulsion systems. “Are they talking together, are they optimised?” he suggests. “We’re also covering ancillary projects such as battery storage – we have got a couple of hybrid projects underway right now with customers, and of course that will all port over to the recreational side and to superyachts. We’re also focusing on two of our engines in particular – the 32-litre C32 and the 3500.”
For the engines themselves, the work going on is extensive and potentially very exciting for the superyacht sphere. “If you ask anyone their thoughts on the Caterpillar brand,” Jackson offers candidly, “we’ve got a great dealer network, you can get a Caterpillar serviced anywhere, we are a very reliable brand, but great power density – the amount of power you get out of a certain size or weight of engine – will not initially come to mind.” Looking at power density, Jackson says, also comes with other benefits including improvements in engine efficiency.
"Now we’re looking at what we can do to push it further, and that equates to a new camshaft, new turbo and injector configurations and the like."
Tackling power density implies a more fundamental, mechanical redesign and this is exactly what Caterpillar has been looking at and developing. “The engine internals are really the performance recipe,” Jackson explains. “So on our 3500 series, which is one of our cornerstones for the superyacht sector, we’ve already completed a major upgrade that came out in 2017. It has a lot of nice new features and we also strengthened the internals. Now we’re looking at what we can do to push our engines further, and that might equate to new camshafts, new turbo and injector configurations and the like.”
When it comes to digitalisation and integration, Jackson says it is all about handling data effectively and then offering three different levels of client interaction depending on what they want. “With asset intelligence, we can come on board and with very minimal hardware and a bit of wiring we can instrument very key systems, compressors, the engines, transmission and propulsion systems and more,” he explains. “We can keep that locally and not transmit anything back to Caterpillar – some customers have decided they want no transmission of data – but through the asset intelligence we can help them make better choices. We call the product Marine Inform and it’s really designed to let the client look at the data and make their own choices. Then we can step up to what we call full asset intelligence.” The market for this is probably going to be more the commercial than the recreational sector, Jackson says, but some recreational clients have expressed interest. “They have said ‘Look at my system for me – I don’t really want to employ the people nor invest in the technology or the capability to do this, so will you do it for me?’ So we would have experts come in, we have rule sets that we use on the data and we may interpret something as, for example, the number 6 injector temperature is low and we will report this to the captain, owner or engineer and will advise them very specifically that the number 6 cylinder appears to have a problem.”
It is all part of what Jackson calls the division between ‘do-it-for-me’, ‘do-it-with-me’
and ‘I’ll-do-it-myself’ approaches, all of which Caterpillar will cater to with its
It is all part of what Jackson calls the division between ‘do-it-for-me’, ‘do-it-with-me’ and ‘I’ll-do-it-myself’ approaches, all of which Caterpillar will cater to with its digitalisation programme. “I would say that the superyacht market is more in the middle of the ‘do-it-with-me’ philosophy,” he offers. “We will help the superyacht interpret the data and they will take it from there. That also intersects with our concierge service, which is essentially a single phone number for the client with a single representative who will coordinate and track any problems the customer may have, even if it involves multiple dealers. It maximises the experience of the owner or captain,” he continues, “so that they are not trying to negotiate between multiple dealers or multiple services – we help arrange all that for them.”
When talking about engines, it is hard not to consider the potential impact of impending Tier III regulations and this is certainly something that is high on Caterpillar’s agenda. “I think Tier III without a doubt is one of the biggest challenges,” he admits, “although I think not as much for the engine manufacturers as we have actually been in the game of after-treatment to meet strict emissions for highway trucks and equipment for many years. But it’s really new for the [yacht] builders. Compromising with the additional room required for all this additional equipment is a huge challenge for them.”
"It takes a lot of engineering bandwidth to work on these technical challenges but I think that it’s going to lead to a lot of good downstream standard products."
In Jackson’s opinion it’s not all being driven by IMO, however. “We’ve seen some pull forward on emissions that is customer-driven,” he offers. “They want a greener, cleaner vessel that exceeds the emissions requirements and that’s driving a lot of smaller, one-off type projects. They are coming in multiple forms right now and with different requests,” he adds, “and that’s a challenge for an engine or propulsion manufacturer. They are fun projects to work on. It takes a lot of engineering bandwidth to work on these technical challenges but I think that it’s going to lead to a lot of good downstream standard products. That’s really what we’re trying to do with these projects we have right now – learn from them and create a standard offering so that the second or third time we get these requests we have an architecture that we can just adapt.”
It is these sorts of topics that frequently come up at The Superyacht Forum, which this year takes place at Amsterdam RAI from 12 to 14 November, and for which Caterpillar is a partner. The event attracts senior level decision makers and key influencers from across the industry, and last year close to 900 delegates joined the Forum for its expansive workshop programme and unrivalled networking opportunities.
“The Superyacht Forum helps us really keep up to date with what is happening in some of these spaces,” Jackson enthuses. “It gives us face time with the builders and the chance to understand some of the current customer trends and demands. We get a feel for the temperament of the industry that perhaps individual discussions outside of the Forum don’t deliver. With things like regulations, the desire for greener yachts, energy storage and different configurations, those are all elements that we started to see at The Superyacht Forum and took away with us.”
It is also the perfect event to explain to the industry what Caterpillar is doing at the moment, and what it is working on for the future. “We learn and probably get more out of The Superyacht Forum than we put in,” Jackson quips, “and it gets us in front of customers. It’s a great opportunity for others to see what we’re doing and for us to communicate in this sector. It’s a great and very solid interaction for us to have, and from that perspective it’s invaluable.”
This year’s event features a theme of The Perfect Customer Journey and, once again, will be an event not to be missed. Click here to learn more about The Superyacht Forum and to register for the event.
Photo: Peter Snijder of PON Power - Caterpillar's dealer in The Netherlands - presents at The Superyacht Forum in 2017
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