Guido Barbazza has been president and managing director of Wärtsilä Italia since 2016, but he was working in the group when Grandi Motori Trieste (GMT) was acquired by the international Finland-based group Wärtsilä in 1997.
The company, located in Trieste, Italy, has seen many changes since then. But the facility in the far-east corner of the Italian peninsula remains a key manufacturing plant for the company.
“The acquisition by Wärtsilä in 1997 certainly brought many changes,” said Barbazza, “The first immediately visible one was sure a big push towards the introduction of computerized systems, which back then were not very much utilized yet.
“Nowadays, one of the main differences with years past is that hundreds of employees located in Trieste don’t really work for Wärtsilä Italia only, but have positions that involve working for the whole group.”
In the past year and a half there have been also major logistic changes, as Barbazza explained: “The manufacturing activity of our plant has been concentrated in the main production hall. A move that allowed us to free the secondary halls and sell them to the Interporto of Trieste, that will create a free port logistic center practically next door. This will certainly be beneficial for our company, too.”
The Wärtsilä Italia’s Trieste plant is considered the biggest engine factory of its kind in Europe: Just to give a feeling of the production capacity, Barbazza said that if the company were to put all engines manufactured and delivered in one year from Trieste on a scale, the weight will equal that of the Cavour aircraft carrier, the flagship of the Italian Navy (Editor’s note: 27 100 ton full load). The Trieste yearly production could deliver enough power to cover the electricity needs of a country like Iceland, the company said.
“Wärtsilä Delivery Center Trieste (DCT) is dedicated to the manufacturing of the group’s large-bore engines, that is types 46 and 50, in the gas, HFO, biofuel and dual fuel versions,” said Barbazza. “We also manufacture engines type 26 and we have a dedicated area for the assembly of propulsion products. The Wärtsilä DCT has reached its production record in 2017.”
The manufacturing compound has seen significant changes too. While in the beginning, the company started with raw materials and every component of the engine was manufactured in-house, now manufacturing is focused on a few core components, including engine blocks, connecting rods, cylinder heads and connecting rod’s big ends. All other components are outsourced from highly specialized suppliers.
“One of the most interesting characteristics of our production is that we manufacture very large pieces of equipment with a very high degree of precision in the machining process,” explained Barbazza. “Despite the size of our products, we have also been able to introduce a modular assembly approach which is rather similar to that adopted in large series engine production. In practice, a significant number of components are pre-assembled in modules that are then fed into the main assembly line.
“Important investments have been recently done in the purchasing of highly automated machining centers. Investments have been made also for the digitalization of the factory, introducing for example screens at every assembly post, plus a number of mobile devices to help the workers carry out their tasks.”
According to Barbazza, the factory’s digitalization process has taken also an interesting tailor-made quality, with the local employees contributing to the personalization of the purchased software products and introducing solutions specific to their jobs. Some of these tailor-made solutions have been adopted by other plants throughout the Wärtsilä group.
“Digitalization has also been a key process for our service business,” he added. “In Trieste is located an Expertise Center for the remote monitoring of our installed units.” The Expertise Center takes care of engines from the whole group located in South Europe and Africa, if they are covered by a maintenance contract. The center is staffed around the clock and utilizes an array of technologies for the remote monitoring of engines in marine or stationary applications, including Augmented Reality tools for the support of technicians in the field.
And just last September, Wärtsilä DCT inaugurated a new dedicated area for the assembly of propulsion products such as steerable thrusters, retractable thrusters, controllable pitch propellers, and gear boxes.
According to Barbazza, the power generation market at the moment looks very promising for the engines produced in Trieste: ”We have actually become an integrator, meaning that in power generation we are capable of supplying solutions integrated with renewable power sources. Wärtsilä is capable of supplying complete power plants where our reciprocating engines work in combination with equipment for wind and/or solar power production.
“Right now South America is a very good market – that was an area which has never been a pulling force in the power generation market. Africa and Far East are also two very good markets at this point.”
He said that the dual fuel market is another thriving area: a segment that has developed significantly from the times when gas carriers were mainly powered by steam turbines using flare gas as a fuel. “Nowadays dual-fuel engines are a valid alternative to the use of turbines and allow to efficiently utilize the evaporated gas from the ship’s cargo to propel the vessel.” Wartsila dual-fuel engines are installed on many ships especially in ferry and cruise sectors.
Dual fuel engines are popular not only in the marine segment but also for power generation solutions. The Wärtsilä DCT manufactures the 50 DF (dual fuel) engine and, since 2014, the 46 DF as well.