The way we do things.
Stories and images from the SDT world.

Who are SDT? What do they do? How do they do it? Who is involved? In this section of our website we would like to acquaint you more closely with the SDT world – in a more personal way, at first hand and with clear statements and authentic images directly from our daily lives.

“Our technicians sometimes even fly to the Maldives for an assignment – without grumbling.”

Eberhard Starke, Managing Directorof SDT, on SDT’s past and future.

It is unusually warm for a northern German day in May. The sun is shining and the air is warm. We are sitting in the conference room of SDT in Rendsburg. The extensively glazed facade offers a view of the confluence of the upper Eider and Kiel canals. Water has always been a central element in SDT’s activities. This is because the company’s main business activity is in the marine sector. Since 1976, SDT has designed, manufactured and maintained power units for an extensive range of ship types. First in Kiel and, then, in 2008 when the location became too small, in nearby Rendsburg. Playing a leading role in the move at the time and in the further expansion of the company: Eberhard Starke. A man with an eventful maritime past.

Mr Starke, you have been the managing director of SDT since 2006. What were your previous activities before you joined SDT?

I really learned the job from scratch. In the dim and distant past I studied marine engineering in Flensburg. Right after school I went to sea, sailing around the world on freighters for a Flensburg shipping company, finally in the position of senior engineer. During my seafaring days I completed my upper secondary level education, via distance learning. Then I also passed the university entrance examination and later studied marine engineering. On becoming a father I decided to give up seafaring. I became a sales engineer, then the technical manager of a shipping company, and then I ended up at Motorenwerke Bremerhaven, where I worked for exactly 10 years, finally becoming the chief technical officer there. During this period I began working for SDT on the side. Then, in 2006, I took up a full-time position at SDT.

What is so special about SDT? Why should customers come to you in particular?

Here we need to draw distinctions. We have many different mainstays. Firstly, new construction: the customer receives customised power units from us. Upon request, we can even offer our suport right from the project phase. How might the engine room look? What drive and energy generation solutions are possible? Our second major focus is the service area. We have highly trained employees who are well-acquainted with the installations of our long-term customers. It even happens that fitters take on sponsorships for specific ship engines or power units. They will be personally requested by the customer, and our fitters may then have to fly to the Maldives for an assignment on board a yacht there. They do that without grumbling (laughs). And it is really a good sign when the customer says that he also wants the SDT service and not that of the nearest local provider. That is truly a proof of their confidence, and also shows that it it is worth it for our customers.

Since its founding, SDT has, to date, serviced more than 5,000 power units and engines. How many do you currently service?

It must be pointed out that engines actually have a lifetime of about 30 years. In this time frame we will have carried out at least three or four overhauls. Of all these engines 60 percent are still being serviced or supplied with spare parts. Engines built by SDT in 1977are still in use. “Service throughout an engine’s lifetime”: that is the claim that we consistently put into practice – provided the customer wants to have this complete life-cycle servicing. Most of them do.

SDT’s philosophy includes a commitment to quality. This is demonstrated, among other things, by the fact that only original spare parts are used. But is this not self-evident?

No, it is not. And we go even further in that regard. When we have performed an engine overhaul we provide the same guarantee as that given for a new engine. And this can only work when original spare parts are used and replacement is performed strictly according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Keyword “environmental protection”. Diesel has a bad reputation right now. Are you also feeling this? Are you having to adapt yourselves to this situation?

Of course. We have been doing that for a long time now and, together with our customers, we are implementing appropriate solutions. We build diesel exhaust systems ourselves and also represent manufacturers of exhaust gas purifiers. This means that we also have extensive know-how in this field. What makes the whole thing difficult is that globally uniform standardisation – like the Euro emission standards in the automotive sector – does not exist for ships. Here there is a real thicket of innumerable different regulations. Even in inland waterway transport. We have done some research – if you travel by riverboat from Rotterdam to Basel, you must observe nine different regulations along the way. A lot needs to be done here.

Keyword “scarceness of future personnel”. How do you recruit new employees for your company? Why should someone join SDT?

Even though we are a mid-tier company, we offer a training concept similar to that of large companies, and with equally favourable prospects. In principle, everyone is welcome in our company, regardless of their school education, and everyone can undertake further training. After passing the skilled worker examination, the employee can take an examination to become a master craftsman, technician or engineer. We also support parallel studies in business administration. With success. In the last two academic years we had the best in the class in one year and the best in the German state in the other year. And in recent years we have taken on all of our trainees – they are now part of the company and enjoying it. So we seem to doing something right (laughs).

“My most
important tool is
my laptop.”

The troubleshooter: SDT service technician Hans-Kristian Wabbel solves problems.

You can tell by his appearance: this man is not easily flustered. And that is the best qualification for his job. Hans-Kristian Wabbel works as a service technician on ships, mega yachts or offshore platforms all over the world. When faults occur in gensets he finds, analyses and eliminates them. We asked him how he does this.

Mr Wabbel, you are a service technician at SDT. Please describe your field of operation.

I’m not really involved with maintenance work, but instead responsible above all for troubleshooting, that is, solving problems. I take a boat out to the ships or the transformer platforms of wind farms when problems occur with a power unit. For example, when sensors have failed. Then I step in, usually with my laptop, which is my most important tool. I use it to connect with the engine and carry out the fault analysis.

As a field engineer, are you exposed to great pressures of time and expectations?

Yes, definitely. In particular during fault detection, you are under a lot of pressure. And that is understandable, as the customer wants to get his ship moving again as quickly as possible. He must often stick to a very strict timetable, and that all costs money. I try to keep calm and concentrate completely on the analysis of the problem. In some cases we also have to work at night; for example on ferries that have to maintain their passenger services during the day.

What do you do when no troubleshooting is required?

I’m also called upon to perform commissioning, among other things. For example, next week I’ll be flying to Genoa again, where the main engine on a mega yacht, which we have just completely overhauled, will be put back into operation again. This engine was installed by SDT twelve years ago, and since then we have serviced it. This often happens. Most operators want the same company to come every time – and often the same service engineer as well. Here at SDT some call us “engine sponsors”, which fits quite well. As field service technicians, we know the engines and the ships, and that makes many things a lot easier. On many ships so many alterations have already been made – we know exactly what was done there, so in most cases we also know very quickly what we need to do.

How were you trained for this job?

I was trained onshore – in a power station, at the public utilities in Flensburg. There, I completed a course to become a state-certified marine engineering technician. This means that I am also an all-rounder here at SDT, which often makes troubleshooting easier. I am involved with both electrics and mechanics. That is now SDT’s goal too; maximum flexibility in employee deployment. Because this also means that only a single engineer has to be deployed, which is, obviously, more economical for the customer. Of course, I often still ask for advice from colleagues who have been specially trained as electricians – these are experts in their field.

We’ve heard that you too have been to sea. Like a few others at SDT, as well.

Yes, after finishing school, for three or four years – on container ships, worldwide. This benefits me during my assignments as a field service engineer. You are familiar with life on board a ship and can work well with the crews because you know the structures. Everyone speaks the same language, and that has many advantages.

“Electricity is
the lifeblood of a
modern society.”

Timo Roempke on the growing importance of a network-independent power supply.

What happens when there is a power failure? Then things get problematic pretty quickly. Medical care, heat, refrigeration, the food supply, telecommunications – everything that is usually taken for granted is suddenly no longer available. Examples of power failures are plentiful. A power failure occurs at the Hamburg Airport. Then a power failure temporarily knocks out more than 900 traffic lights, a signal box and a ticket vending machine of the local public transport system. In Lübeck, a complete blackout paralysed the whole city for four hours. In general, the risk of hacker attacks has also greatly increased, as a result of the increasing digitalisation of the power grid. Should we be worried? Putting it another way: what measures are needed to optimally protect oneself in the event of an electricity blackout? We talk with someone who is well acquainted with this topic: Timo Roempke, SDT Sales Manager for “onshore” stationary standby power systems.

Mr Roempke, what solutions does SDT offer for protection against such dangers?

SDT offers emergency power systems (abbreviated to EPS) that ensure an independent power supply. Here, SDT adapts the output of the electricity generator individually to suit the needs of the customer. This means that an electricity backup can be provided for a family home just as well as for a complex industrial installation with up to 3.5 MW.

Who are your main customers in the area of EPS systems? To what sectors do they belong?

The sectors are many and varied. Our main customers include, on the one hand, public-sector clients, such as hospitals, fire brigades or the police. On the other hand, we also deal with industrial companies, data centres, banks, insurance companies and agricultural operations. Likewise, telecommunication and water management companies, as well as power stations, airports and civil defence facilities – and many more.

Let’s take hospitals as an example. When they are hit by a power failure, how does a power unit or system like that offered by SDT actually work?

As a basic principle, all hospitals are equipped with emergency systems. In addition, the life-support machines and equipment are safeguarded with an uninterruptible power supply, the battery-supported UPS system. In the event of a mains failure, this takes over the supply in a split second. The UPS system communicates automatically with the control system of the emergency power generator. The emergency power generator then receives the start command via what is known as an automatic stand-by controller. After only a few seconds, when the engine speed and subsequently the generator voltage are stable, the emergency power generator takes over the power supply assigned to it. The emergency power control system now continuously monitors the network behaviour of the conventional energy supplier. When the latter supplies failure-free power again, the emergency power generator receives the restore command, i.e. for restoration of the normal state via the automatic stand-by controller. After a certain follow-up phase during which , among other things, the engine cools down, the emergency power generator automatically switches off again.

For how long can the emergency power generator replace the mains?

According to the recommendation of the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Emergency Aid, a backup power supply system should be designed in such a way that its operation is ensured for at least 72 hours without additional fuelling. Running times longer than this are always possible, of course, depending on the fuel depot.

SDT is a direct dealer for Grupel. How does this relationship work? And to what extent can SDT also develop and implement individual solutions beyond the series products? Can SDT also adapt standard power units? Or even produce power units itself?

Yes, we can do that. And that is the big difference compared to almost all sales partners of manufacturers of standard EPS systems here in Germany. SDT is also able to implement special projects independently, and design and manufacture a power unit according to specific requirements. We always check first whether a desired power unit can be implemented with a unit from the Grupel standard range. If not, for example, if a special solution with a very large number of modifications or special dimensions is required, we no longer take the standard power unit but instead the project is passed on to our project planning department. We create the AutoCAD drawings, have the individual components manufactured by regional subcontractors, complete the system in our production hall, and subsequently perform the trial runs. SDT can do this kind of thing because we have decades of manufacturing experience.

And after production? Do you also undertake the after-sales service?

Of course, and this also sets us apart from the competition: after-sales service and the spare parts supply. On request, we also provide installation on site and hand over the system to the customer virtually ready-to-use. And during its entire operating life we undertake the maintenance and inspections. Everything from a single source – that is also SDT’s principle in the area of EPS systems.

Finally, the view ahead. How do you think the market for ESPS systems will evolve?

Since demand for energy and power will continue to rise in the future, the demand for EPS systems will also rise accordingly in order to safeguard the power supply. The structures are becoming increasingly complex and a failure-free power supply more and more important. Electricity is and will remain the lifeblood of a modern society. The imminent shut-down of conservative power stations and the changeover to renewable energies will be a big challenge, necessitating additional protection by EPS systems. Without power everything comes to a standstill. I can advise every family, every house owner and, of course, every company to consider reliable alternatives in electricity generation – to avoid any nasty surprises. In this regard, the Practical Guide for Civil Protection, Vol. 13, which was published by the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Emergency Aid in a revised version in 2015, is also very informative: “Emergency Power Supply in Companies and Government Agencies”. It sounds dry, but in fact it is not. Everyone should have read it!