150 years of innovation at MWM
19 May 2021
Tim Scott, director of MWM, the engine maker founded by Carl Benz in 1871, talks about where the company is headed. By Jack Burke
(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Spring issue of Diesel & Gas Turbine Worldwide)
Q: MWM is marking its 150th anniversary this year. How is the company celebrating that milestone (the company’s website mentions different campaigns and surprises)?
A: All of us at MWM are excited about this important anniversary. Unfortunately, the current pandemic situation makes it impossible for the entire workforce to come together for a large celebration, so we have postponed the celebration to 2022. Nevertheless, there will be a variety of activities to appropriately recognize the anniversary. For example, we have authored a book showing the interesting history of MWM and the many achievements and innovations of the last decades in a historical context. We will also open an area in our facility to highlight several of the technological advancements implemented over the years. And, an MWM-branded tram will drive in the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region.
We are very proud of our 150-year history, but the 1400 employees of MWM today are not resting on the good reputation of our iconic company. Our sights are firmly set on the future. We are guided by our principles of putting the customer at the center of all our decisions and offering quality products and reliable services throughout the entire product life cycle. Accordingly, we are celebrating our 150th anniversary under the theme: “150 years of continuous innovation.”
Each time period has its own problems and opportunities, of course, but how would you describe the challenges MWM faces in 2021?
There are a number of challenges facing the energy industry globally and specifically in individual countries. And we offer our customers products and solutions to address these challenges.
In Europe, for example, we are offering generator sets that are equipped for significant flexibility in fuel and operation, with associated extended and customized service contracts. We are seeing a changing mode of operation for gas generator sets from continuous operation to flex operation. Operators are running their plants during hours when electricity is needed more, such as in the early evening. Or, for example, to compensate for the highly fluctuating feed-in of renewable energies such as wind and solar power. This results in different requirements for the service and maintenance of our products.
In Germany, we now provide clients with the EmiBox, a good solution to ensure nitrogen oxides emission compliance. Proof of compliance with NOx emission limits or the continuously effective operation of oxidation catalysts is required in Germany, and we anticipate that these requirements may also have to be met in the near future in other countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has of course presented us and our customers with numerous challenges, both operational and sales-related. For example, events that had previously been held in person had to be held virtually. This worked very well after the initial changeover, and I actually had direct contact with even more distribution partners and customers last year than previously. Our distribution partners, who ensure that our customers have access to optimum support and services in more than 60 countries, have also adapted to this new challenge. As an essential business, we kept a strong focus on servicing customer equipment in the field. This is necessary because our customers include hospitals and manufacturers of urgently needed medical equipment. Through long-term service agreements which often include the supply of oil and coolant as well as intelligent parts management, we have provided our customers with planning security even in times of crisis.
Q: Do you think Carl Benz, who founded the company, would recognize it today? What would be the same for him and what would be different.
A: As the founder of MWM, the legacy of inventor Carl Benz can be felt everywhere. His inventive spirit and wealth of ideas still motivate us today.
Carl Benz invented the two-stroke gas engine in 1879/80; gas engine solutions remain the company’s core business today. For many years of MWM’s history, diesel engine applications and production were of great importance, before focusing back on gas in 2004. Development and production still take place at his site in Mannheim-Neckarstadt, which was founded in 1885-86. In fact, the street on which our site is located now bears his name.
There are certainly changes – namely the size and performance of modern, high-technology gas engines today as well as the variety of applications. Today, a wide range of so-called special gases (landfill gas, mine gas, sewage gas, or even associated petroleum gas) or biogas and biomethane are used in addition to natural gas. Now the increasing use of hydrogen and hydrogen blends are setting a path for gas reciprocating products well into the future.
Last but not least, it should not be forgotten that Carl Benz also owed his original success to the commitment of his wife and business partner Bertha, who laid the foundation for the company’s economic success with the famous ride on the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Car from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Bertha Benz thus set important ideas in motion: namely, that every team member has a role to play. Today, the idea that all team members contribute, and their input is valued is clearly seen across our company. We have a very active Women’s Initiative Network Employee Resource Group chapter in Mannheim, focused on developing women to act as catalysts for local and global change and help drive personal and professional growth.
One thing that has changed over the decades is how much attention companies pay to their environmental footprint. How is MWM working toward a more sustainable product?
Sustainability is one of our foundational Values in Action and has impacted how we work for many years; we are committed to positively impact the quality of the environment and the communities where we live and work. MWM produces products that help provide the benefits of decentralized power; namely significantly improved energy efficiency and reduced emissions.
Gas generator sets used for decentralized power generation provide efficiency of 84 percent and above. To produce the same amount of energy centrally, 58 percent more fuel is needed on average. We continue to work to further improve the efficiency of our engines, which in turn has led to reduction in fuel consumption and emissions for our customers.
MWM products also contribute to greater sustainability through remanufacturing. For many years, engines and engine components which have seen extended operation have been brought up to the state-of-the-art by way of basic and intermediate overhaul. Over the past 20 years, we have overhauled several thousand complete engines and more than 180,000 individual components. As a result, around 10,000 metric tons of material have been reused, in some cases several times, and have gone through several life cycles. At the same time, our engineers are working to continuously extend the service life of the individual components, which reduces material usage and ultimately service costs for the user.
In recent years we have also optimized the production processes at the Mannheim plant to produce less waste and reduce carbon emissions. One very special sustainability project was the conversion of the test cells so that as we test generator sets, we use the energy generated in these tests both for our own needs and for the local electrical distribution network.
Q: What will the gas power generation market look like in 10-15 years? Do you see hydrogen as part of the future for internal combustion engines?
A: For a number of reasons, we see gas power generation as a technology that is here to stay, though it will naturally evolve over time. Especially in developing countries in Asia and Africa, we still see a shift towards more natural gas, which is helping to reduce greenhouse gases in comparison to using other fossil fuels. The use of natural gas is also on the rise for a number of major applications, such as data centers.
In addition, in many parts of the world there is a trend toward more sustainable energy production using renewables. Due to the high fluctuations in renewable energy production and the mismatch between demand and supply, we see a growing need for load management applications (which often cannot be met by batteries due to the large scale and duration) as well as the need for storage of excess electricity. Gas-powered Combined Heat and Power (CHP) solutions will not only be a bridging technology but will play a key role in the future energy mix.
As for hydrogen, we have a good base of experience and products ready to use hydrogen in a blended basis and we are working closely with our customers to understand their needs and timing of planned hydrogen use. We are continuing to advance capability with targeted R&D and we have recently been awarded research funding from the US Department of Energy for two development projects, a 1.5MW Hydrogen Fuel Cell System for Data Center Power and a Flexible Natural Gas/Hydrogen Combined Heat and Power System. We will advocate outcome-based and technology-agnostic policy as we normally do.
Q: A key focus for MWM has been digitalization. Can you give some examples of where you have helped customers with those products?
A: Digitalization is very important at MWM as it allows us to expand the breadth and effectiveness of our services offerings to customers. We have been using electronic controls with remote access for generator sets and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants for a long time. These enable us to intervene remotely if necessary and help customers diagnose and resolve problems quickly. This capability has been particularly valuable during the pandemic-related travel restrictions. We can support customers in a timely manner, both for existing products and for the installation and commissioning of new products.
In mid-February of this year, we launched MWM Remote Asset Monitoring (RAM). Through the new digital MWM online status monitoring system, the operation of gas generator sets and entire CHP plants can be monitored in real time, digitally and securely, regardless of location or time of day. RAM can “push” system-generated messages to an operator and our service team in case of alarms, warnings or possible malfunctions, which can help avoid potential damage or faults at an early stage before they impact customer operations.
In this way, the system helps operators optimize operating procedures and coordinate support processes in a more targeted manner. Notifications can be set individually. Reports on performance, operating hours and current and historical performance can be generated as required, saving customers time and additional work.
For example, we have a customer in northern Europe who used to dispatch his operations staff from a central location, travelling to his plants and keeping the operating logs by hand. He can now retrieve all data digitally from a single location. The interface is very user-friendly and intuitive. All plant parameters, such as engine data, generator data, and information on the plant peripherals, are displayed via the interface, and up to 1,000 parameters can be recorded and analyzed. And most importantly, RAM is protected against unauthorized access by multi-level security mechanisms – keeping access to critical data and plant functions properly controlled. Digitalization already plays a major role at MWM today and will be further expanded in the future.