Engineering a New Path

By Greg Trauthwein, Editor
Tuesday, December 11, 2012

WR Systems, long renowned for its prowess in delivering innovative engineered solutions to the U.S. Navy, is making waves in commercial maritime circles.

WR Systems is a rare bird by many accounts.  While the Norfolk, VA-based engineering firm earns the lion’s share of its business from the U.S. Navy, it was never fashioned specifically as a “defense contractor.” While it houses an enviable stable of technical talent, with access to some the world’s leading experts in marine electronic systems, it does not consider itself an R&D facility … or a manufacturer … rather a hybrid in the middle that is fully capable of both. And while many marine system and service providers are scrambling to diversify from the commercial maritime market, WR Systems is diving headlong into the commercial marine business, expanding its staff, facilities and global reach. Meet WR Systems, a company which today is now re-introducing itself to the global marine industry, with a new logo, a new swagger, but the relying on the same steadfast values and technical expertise that has helped it grow from a start-up in 1983 to its premium position as a go-to source for complex technical matters for one of the world’s more demanding clients: the U.S. Navy.

The People
“We are an engineering firm, period,” said David K. Edwards, President, WR Systems, Ltd., “We never set out (from the beginning) to be a defense contractor, so we’ve never really adopted that mentality.” Instead the company was fashioned from the outset as a problem solver, and with a cumulative 350 employees in Norfolk and Jacksonville, FL, and a rapidly expanding global network of representatives, it delivers a sizeable technical punch to help solve some difficult problems. “We are a customer driven, matrix organization,” Edwards continued, stressing the fact that equal share is given to cultivating, nurturing, growing and maintaining employees as it is customers.
Whether it on the established military, the growing commercial marine, or the newborn healthcare side of its business, Edwards maintains that a leading challenge always is to not simply design a solution for solutions sake, rather deliver to the customer what they want.
“Our job is to understand what the customer really wants, and the key is to really listen,” Edwards said. “Our engineers may have ideas of grandeur, but we must base our solutions on reality, on the customer need.”
With its largest customer being the U.S. Navy, Edwards maintains that the company is well situated, actually serving more on the staffing side of the Navy, working with them to define the parameters of future systems, while at the same time helping them fix systems that may be 40 years old or older, decoding work from companies that may no longer exist and modernizing the circuitry to extend the life (and the budget) of Navy assets instead of buying new. The company’s focus on attracting top talent was solidified earlier this year when it added two venerable names – Arthur Thomas Sr. and Mike Kellner – to its team. Thomas, VP Maritime business, was both President and owner of Seacoast Electronics until its sale to Radio Holland (RH) in 2009. He then joined RH USA as Vice President Business Development. Before joining WRSystems he held the position of Director, Maritime Sales – Americas at Thrane & Thrane. Kellner, Director, Maritime Business, is a board member of RTCM, has held senior positions at Thrane & Thrane, Radio Holland and Furuno.

The Systems
The core strength of WR Systems is its work on Marine Electronics Suites, and a stroll through its Norfolk workshop is a literal stroll across the U.S. fleet, surface and subsurface, new and old, large and small. “The Navy can usually find about 80 percent of the solution it needs off-the-shelf. What we do is provide the final 20%,” Edward said.
To that end, he sees the foray into commercial maritime business as a natural extension, as he said the company has effectively helped to introduce many commercial technologies via its developments with the U.S. Navy.
(When we decided to enter the commercial market) “we didn’t want to just come into the marine electronics side of the business and be just ‘another one,’ Edward said. Per protocol, the company conducted extensive fact-finding missions, talking primarily to shipowners, and what it found universally was the feeling that marine electronics service had degraded over time, particularly when economic times turned bad. At the same time, Edwards counts many of the electronics majors as colleagues and business partners, representing approximately 30 OEMs. “Some see us as competitors, some don’t,” Edwards said.  Some, in fact, see the company as a means to get in with the Navy, as for example WR System conducts all ECDIS certification for the U.S. Navy.
Ultimately the target is a 60/40 split between Government and Commercial business by 2015, with  a 70/30 split between providing service and providing product.

The Product
To avoid entering the commercial maritime market as just another marine electronics engineering and service provider, the decision was taken that it had to come up with an actual product that could serve as the de facto ‘face’ of WR Systems to the industry. About the same time, the company was working on an ancillary project with containership giant Maersk, when a casual conversation regarding future technical needs turned to emissions monitoring. And so born was Emsys.
To help the maritime industry meet the new emission requirements, WR Systems developed the Emsys, a continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS), a technical solution to provide a full emissions inventory for NOx, SOx, CO2 and PM for all installed engines and boilers. It also was reportedly the first system to be certified for the calculation of totalized emissions, particulate matter measurement and the calculation of the CO2 Operational Index in line with IMO guidelines. In addition, the Emsys software suite incorporates GPS position and time stamping to allow accurate report generation, important to meeting ECA limits. “We developed Emsys in a proactive fashion to be a straight-forward and cost-effective solution for compliance,” said Edwards. “Cost savings will be realized in black smoke fines and ship detention avoidance, as well as a reduction in engine maintenance expense, part replacement costs, fuel expense and reporting expense.”
Emsys is a second generation quantum cascade laser and optics-driver single enclosure device that can continuously monitor emissions from up to 10 smokestacks for marine applications and is certified by ABS. WRSystems developed this integrated technology not only to assist industry to meet the MARPOL Annex VI requirements, but for other localized and international marine air pollution regulations. Importantly, the system has been designed for low cost, weight and footprint onboard the ship, with no consumables to replace, rather a filter that must be removed, cleaned and returned.
Confirmation of the concept has come via contracts with Royal Caribbean and Transocean, as well as the latest deal for Emsys aboard two 125,000-ton Carnival Cruise Line’s AIDA cruise ships being built at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) of Nagasaki, Japan.

(As published in the November 2012 edition of Maritime Reporter -

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