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ATLA Propulsion Controls

A young company with an innovative approach

ATLA Propulsion Controls joined the Maritime Remanufacturing Network in early 2023. Established in January 2022, ATLA is a young company with an innovative approach to maritime electronics. In this interview with the company’s operational director Thom Muis, we hear how ATLA keeps electrical control systems in service long after they have been declared obsolete.

“The company was actually founded on this belief that no propulsion control system should become obsolete.”

Can you give us an introduction to ATLA Propulsion Controls?

We were set up by 50 percent AEGIR-Marine and 50 percent PAT-Krüger. We support AEGIR-Marine’s clients and the broader maritime market with their obsolete propulsion control systems. The company was actually founded on this belief that no propulsion control system should become obsolete.

When and why do electrical control systems become obsolete?

While a ship generally has a life cycle of 25 to 35 years, electronic systems nowadays are often declared obsolete after as little as 15 years. This can be for two reasons. Firstly: maybe the OEM [original equipment manufacturer] has stopped producing them; after all, keeping production lines open for longer is expensive. Or secondly: maybe there is a commercial reason; if the OEM doesn’t support a system anymore, then the client is forced to update and buy the new version.

So what do you offer as an alternative?

In addition to component-based PCB [printed circuit board] repairs to these obsolete systems, we have three different solutions. First is what is known as ‘new-old’ stock: these are items that have never been used but are original. Then we have reconditioned spares: these are fully tested and certified second-hand items. And third, we have new produced items: these are from our own design and suitable as a replacement.

“We look at what can be reused and what actually needs to be replaced.”

How and who decides on what is the best option?

We work with clients on a case-by-case basis because every job, every ship is different. For some reason, the situation in the world of electronics is ‘all or nothing’; you have to buy a complete new system or nothing at all. We have a different approach: we ask our clients what they actually need and what they expect to have new. We look at what can be reused and what actually needs to be replaced. This is quite straightforward: new components can be implemented into old systems without too much trouble.

Can you give us a couple of examples?

If the client has bought a ship with the intention to sail for another 25 years, then replacement of a system is certainly a feasible option. This would be economically interesting, but it is still worth considering how necessary it is to replace absolutely 100 percent of the existing system. Another common example we see is a client with a ship that is roughly 20 years old. They want to keep this operational for another five years. This is a totally different question to the first example; we can look at what components we have on stock, we can look at maintenance we carry out, and we can maybe replace individual parts – those with wear and tear – rather than the whole system.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to ATLA Propulsion Controls?

We have looked into how electronics impact the environment and we discovered that, although electronics make up only two percent of the weight of landfill waste, 70 percent of heavy metals in landfills come from electronics. Therefore, as an electronics service provider, we can reduce this environmental impact by repairing or reusing old equipment. Of course we cannot repair everything – we don’t have a magic wand – but we are working to make sure that the components that we cannot repair are recycled responsibly.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing ship-owners dealing with so-called obsolete electrical systems?

On new-build [ship] projects, price is very often the leading factor; nobody looks at guaranteed lifetime. Companies are not involved with questions about after-sales care and serviceability. Spare part availability is especially important: a client’s right to repair is crucial. It doesn’t have to be like this though – look at the automobile industry’s regulations for spare parts. We could do that for the shipping industry.

Why did ATLA decide to get involved with the Maritime Remanufacturing Network?

What I like about the Maritime Remanufacturing Network is that instead of looking at old components as scrap, we see them as a valuable item. Propulsion controls, for example, use the same technology as 15 years ago. Yes, the ‘look and feel’ of controls has improved, but the underlying principle of systems are the same.

What does ATLA want to contribute to the development of the Maritime Remanufacturing Network?

Part of our business philosophy is to keep systems up and running. We see our place in the Maritime Remanufacturing Network as making electrical components available again. There are some difficulties with electronics because not all the components are suitable for remanufacturing. Therefore, we see this as a process of cannibalising multiple systems and reusing what we can to produce remanufactured systems. This allows usable parts to re-enter the market.

What would this look like for an ATLA client?

We are not going to put a 20-year-old electrical control system on a new ship, but we can use certain parts of old systems. Look at handles: maybe they have a different ‘look and feel’ but internally, they haven’t changed in 40 years. We can offer hybrid systems with varied content as a feasible alternative to new systems. This is good for the environment, but also meets the client’s operational goals.

What do you want the Maritime Remanufacturing Network to achieve in the next few years?

I hope that we can achieve a closed loop of reusing old components. We can do this as much as possible for electronics, developing a structure where all the different waste streams have a purpose. This will expand the functional lifespan of electrical components.

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