Technically brilliant

Since 1994, the German firm Schiffstechnik Buchloh has been creating and engineering specialist designs for inland navigation craft. Though it today has just seven employees, an intelligent combination of experienced ship builders, engineers and technicians has led to the company gaining a reputation far exceeding its small stature. Always seeking to stay at the leading edge of the market, designs coming from the Unkel-based office 40 kilometres from Cologne reveal a huge market interest in green technologies.

“We design passenger vessels for day cruising and ships for longer-duration trips over 14 days, such as river cruise vessels sailing betweenAmsterdam and Budapest,” says founder and managing director Heiko Buchloh. “We also create special-purpose vessels for authorities such as the police or coast guard as well as vessels navigating the rivers Elbe, Main, Donau and Rhine such as passenger and car ferries, tankers and cargo carriers.”

Schiffstechnik Buchloh’s reputation has led companies from across the world to seek its services including the recent acquisition of an important client in the rapidly expanding Chinese market. By and large, however, the majority of its business items from northern Europe. One such example is Viking River Cruises, whichcommissioned the construction of the Amsterdam to Budapest cruising vessel mentioned by Heiko.

The international cruise operator prides itself on offering passengers luxury river travel on moderncruise vessels with a cutting edge Scandinavian design. Its most recently launched vessel is the 135 metre MV Viking Legend and MV Viking Prestige launched in spring 2011 designed by Schiffstechnik Buchloh; it is noted not only for being one of the largest river navigators in Europe but also for its environmentally-friendly credentials, at the heart of which is its dieselelectric power system.

“We installed diesel-electric generator sets in the Legend’s and Prestige’s hull to provide power for the whole ship,” explains Heiko. “Because it uses a total of three independent but networked generators, the ship can start up or shut down the sets to meet current power requirements and thereby conserve the optimum amount of energy. The diesel engines can be treated in a similar manner. We have implemented good onboard energy regulation for a well-balanced system so that the energy can be used exactly where it’s needed; if the ship is in a channel for example and there is no need for full engine power, it can shut down one or two engines. Through this it achieves a reduction in fuel of between ten and 15 per cent compared to normal cruise vessels of equivalent dimensions.”

This is just one example of the commercial and private marine market’s arc toward green technology, a trend that Schiffstechnik Buchloh is particularly excited by and which it has been involved with for several years. In 2008, the company took part in developing Hamburg’s Alsterwasser Zemship, a small zero-emission tourist ferry operating in Lake Alster. The ship uses hybrid fuel cells comprised of hydrogen and lead-gel linked by a smart energy management system. Schiffstechnik Buchloh designed the vessel to best accommodate the power cells designed by Proton Motor Fuel Cell.

Most recently, the German engineering firm has been involved with the design of a solar-powered lake boat for a private client in Germany. Heiko outlines the project: “It is a small passenger ship for up to 65 passengers entirely powered by solar panels. The owner has a previous vessel that uses panels to provide onboard lighting but now wants a brand new boat with the best solar technology, so he approached us. Energy gathered from the sun is stored within battery compartments in the hull, with a full charge offering eight to ten hours of sailing on the lake.”

Schiffstechnik Buchloh’s designs are clearly well respected by many throughout the sector and, having been around for nearly 20 years now, its prospects can only get brighter. In addition to high quality engineering, the company takes customer service very seriously and seeks to offer clients a personal and personable service throughout the development process. Aided by having a small staff roster, the company has efficient internal communications that ensures the partners – both yards and clients – are kept up to date with calculations and drawings at all stages whilst receiving a friendly service.

Combining good design, efficient practice and warm customer service has seen Schiffstechnik Buchloh through the last few years, including the financial crisis, with a consistent and stable workload as highlighted by the projects already mentioned. Looking forward, business looks to be as vibrant as ever with the company already tendering for a host of projects over the next 18 months due to the introduction of new European legislation for inland navigation vessels.

Begun in 1999, new regulations for the emissions of non-road diesel engines have been gradually introduced through a series of stages. This programme includes inland water vessels at Stage III, which first came into force in 2006 and requires significant reduction in carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and particulate matter emissions. With many older ships simply incapable of meeting these new standards, owners and operators throughout the continent are now looking to replace old ferries and cruisers with new vessels. Already well connected within the sector and having had several years experience of environmentally friendly ship design, Schiffstechnik Buchloh is in an ideal position to take advantage of the surge.

“We have had a good business approach throughout the last few years, remaining small and focusing on providing our partners with high quality service and its important to remain focused on this. In the future we will continue pursuing this approach,” Heiko concludes. “Looking forward, there are a lot of new and exciting ideas out there and we hope to forge ukstrong links with our clients to hear their ideas and then apply our skills to them. Our main concern will always be to realise quality engineering designs.”

Developing solar-powered lake boat
Experience and understanding of green technology
Good links throughout the European market