Challenges and Opportunities in the Turbomachinery Industry

Steam turbines have been around for more than a century, and some say the Turbomachinery industry is rather mature. So how does a company decide between competing Turbomachinery producers? Do they go to Siemens or GE? How about Rolls Royce vs. Pratt?

Manufacturers invest millions, if not billions, of dollars (depending on their size) into their sales & marketing to create a perception of having the better technology and lower prices in order to beat the competition. They do so, however, by sacrificing quality and margins.

Last week, we had a very nice dinner with some of our colleagues from a large Japanese manufacturer. They explained to us that, in addition to pricing pressure and brand pressure, the “cost of goods” landscape is changing rapidly with fierce competition from Chinese and Indian companies from the manufacturing perspective. But there exists a “risk” to outsource manufacturing to a cheaper location and lose the quality, or at least the perception of quality, of the turbomachine.

So what is the solution?

At SoftInWay, we are an R&D engineering company and thus consistently feel that the differentiation of our clients from the rest of the market should not just be in price, but rather in truly creating better machines from the perspective of performance, durability, environmental footprint, etc.

However even “R&D” and the design aspects of something as mature as “the steam path” can be a challenge.

Companies have several approaches to designing new machines:

  1. Complete design from scratch based on a new concept: example SCO2 Cycle Technology.
  2. Redesign or improve on existing technologies ( this can often be considered the safest by the larger OEMs with a high level of risk aversion and investor pressure).
  3. Not changing the flow path but adding to the overall machine.

The only approach of these three which can really give a new or existing company any real advantage is the first.

We have also taken a look at another interesting idea: Every “major” manufacturer has at some point taken their designs, models and often software code from academia. The result is that, since they have something that works and has been tested, the engineering R&D teams are often crippled by lack of budget for new tools that will allow them to effectively take approach 1 or even sometimes 2.

Alternatively, some engineering managers upon first meeting us and learning about AxSTREAM ™, our software for design, analysis and optimization, have asked us – why do we need a new approach if we know ours works?

We feel that the answer is quite simple: Although the industry is quite mature, every player does something a little bit different. Our software has been developed and improved over the last 15 years by working with over 200 major players in the Turbomachinery Industry. Because we started as a consulting company, our mission in the beginning was never to be a software player, but rather to make our engineers’ lives easier.  Accomplishing this led us to develop new, innovative software features that would further our capabilities with consulting projects. In 2005, we released our software into the market.

The result became quite interesting: Today in 2015, over 50% of our new feature developments come from our clients’ ideas and requests. What does this mean for a user of software like AxSTREAM as well as for the industry? They can benefit not only from their experience and ours, but also from the experience of the industry as a whole. From a figurative perspective, AxSTREAM has been built and added to by those in the Aerospace, Automotive, Defense, and Power Generation industries, just to name a few. Its capabilities stretch beyond a single field. The ability to innovate using a new approach, such as AxSTREAM, becomes less risky and more attainable. Some might even say the biggest risk in developing new technology is doing so alone, in a room, shut off from the outside world (without AxSTREAM).

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