European Security & Defence – Interview with Karsten Schudt, Managing Director of 3W-International
ESD: In 2009 you entered the professional UAS market with 3W-International. How has the market changed since then?
Schudt: At that time, the market was very clearly driven by military demand. The military recognised the utility of unmanned systems very early on and was also naturally a financier that invested in and advanced new developments — such as the Heavy Fuel engine. The situation has changed, because today many UAS are used for civil or commercial applications, which means that in addition to the state there are now also private investors who invest money in the development of non-military applications.
ESD: To what extent has this changed the business for engines?
Schudt: Back in 2009, our business consisted of selling 2-stroke engines. The customer was less interested in consultation, let alone in the engine’s adaptation to his application area, so we were basically a simple engine supplier. That changed a bit when we were asked to apply our expertise to developing Heavy Fuel engines, but the sales activity barely changed little. However, in the past two to three years, it has been possible to detect a pronounced change in demand and in our customers’ behaviour; that change goes hand in glove with civil and commercial applications. And now we’ve moved away from a purely sales business towards long-term project management, including pre-prototyping feasibility studies.
ESD: What are the reasons for these changes in the market?
Schudt: We are no longer purely an engine supplier; instead, we have developed ourselves into an expert partner for propulsion solutions based upon 2-stroke and Wankel-engine technology. Our customers are increasingly focussed on efficiency: UAS have to achieve maximum range with maximum payload and minimum fuel consumption. That is a balancing act, of course, and compromises have to be made somewhere, but it is ultimately about the propulsion being tuned to the customer’s needs. This means that we work very closely together with our clients, and become involved in the project early on so that we understand what our customers really want from us. So with our performance partner, Sky Power GmbH, we have developed an engine construction kit with which we can quickly visualise, engineer and combine the components to meet the customer’s equirement.
ESD: Please tell us more about Sky Power.
Schudt: We have commissioned Sky Power to be our performance partner. Sky Power’s function for us resembles that of a contract tuner for a car manufacturer – say, AMG to our Mercedes. Customer modifications, customisation, new developments and components, and the performance enhancement of 3W products are the goals of the partnership.
ESD: What role does Germany play as a site for such corporate developments?
Schudt: Germany is known for its engine technology, and “Made in Germany” is an important quality and sales factor. The quality of 3W engines stems from several factors, including technical expertise, long-term experience, tradition, and state-of-the-art production, and these contribute to one of the highest quality standards in the industry. From R&D and prototyping, to manufacturing and calibration, 3W guarantees constant and permanent quality control. Every manufacturing step is traceable, and employees are personally responsible for the fulfilment of 3W quality standards. And our component suppliers and partners share these standards and guarantee these quality requirements. 3W is opposed to offshore manufacturing; we will stay true to Germany as a company location and the business will remain in German hands – making us the only combustionengine
manufacturer in Germany in the UAS arena that is not owned by China. We are planning a massive product and service expansion in coming years. To do so, we need engine expertise and experience that we can only find, first-hand, in Germany.
ESD: What of the immediate future?
Schudt: We introduced the first hybrid Wankel engine in 2017, and will expand our product range based on Wankel engine technology. Issues such as improving efficiency, reducing fuel consumption, and using hybrid 2-stroke engines are both current and future topics with which we are occupying ourselves. And of course we shall continue to work closely together with our customers: propulsion units tailored to the customers’ needs are the future of engine development for UAS.
ESD: And looking further ahead?
Schudt: We very clearly want to expand our position as a leading supplier of engines, upholding the banner of German engine construction in the UAS area. Moreover, we see good opportunities for our Wankel engine technology to be used in remote UAS applications, for instance, as a range extender for electric mobility or purely as a small generator. But these are other markets that we’ll be looking at in the near future.
April 2018 · European Security & Defence – The interview was conducted by Stephen Barnard.