Judith Keller has been part of this from the very beginning, having been involved with the mtu Series 4000 and its numerous applications in many design projects, and having gathered a wealth of experience. It is a constant companion which, after 25 years, she still doesn't tire of, and which she would not want to be without day-to-day.
There are just a few days in Judith Keller's career when the Series 4000 was not part of her life. The Series 4000 had not yet been born when she began her apprenticeship as a technical draftswoman at what was then mtu Friedrichshafen in 1993. But just a few months after her apprenticeship ended, she met the machine destined to become a long-term friend. She joined a newly formed 10-strong design team and, from that moment on, the Series 4000 has defined her working life: “The Series 4000 marine engine was due to go into production in 1997. To manage that, we also had to work two Saturdays a month,” recalls Judith. But, she says, cookies and Danish pastries helped them get through. At that time, she had her desk and a drawing board on which she created design drawings in ink and using cutting-and-pasting techniques. CAD workstations already existed, but the
open-plan office only had four of them. “You had to be quick in the morning,” she grins.
A shortage of engineers and confidence in her project skills
Keller still remembers her first project clearly: the 16-cylinder Series 4000 rail engine for Austrian Railways. “The customer was adamant the engines had to be able to start at minus 25 degrees Celsius,” she recalls. “We solved that one with a flame start system that preheated the charge air. It was a bit of a weird solution, but it worked.”
Judith had the opportunity to take on design tasks in projects so early on thanks to the shortage of engineers at the end of the 1990s. “My boss at the time had confidence in me and my abilities.
He was convinced I could do it, and I was really motivated. Today, I'm grateful for that trust and the opportunities it created.”
After several years on Series 4000 generator sets, it was time to move on to the next 4000 model:
“Together with just three colleagues and a project manager, we were to develop a fracking engine and an electric drilling package for the American market based on the diesel Gendrive and the C&I engine,” Keller explains. A new Series 4000 application which gave her the opportunity to go to Detroit for the full-production start-up. “It broadens your horizons, and you make contacts – ones I still value and make use of regularly to this day,” she enthuses. “Apart from which, the engine turned out to be a rip-roaring success, with Sales unveiling it at a trade show in Texas where the giveaways included coupons for cowboy boots embroidered with mtu and DDC logos. "Then the customers were invited to Friedrichshafen, and my Sales colleague sold the first engines at a customer dinner in a restaurant by signing a beer mat. It was amazing!” The paperwork was then settled a few days later.
Background knowledge and feedback culture
Alongside these design projects, she also took on a new role in live-product engineering for the Series 4000: “My job was to record individual faults, check them in with the relevant designers and teams, and then follow them up. At the time, I had to deal with a fairly broad range of parties, from Assembly and Quality to suppliers and customers. These different perspectives have given me a lot of background knowledge and understanding,” she says. Understanding things has always been important to Keller, which is why she once spent two weeks in Series 4000 Assembly after completing her training as a technical draftswoman. “It's the only way I can understand if there's enough room left for the tool,” was how she put it at the time.
“I think designers should get out into the field more often and talk to customers. There's a tendency to fixate on the engine. The fact that there's a whole system around it is often something we lose sight of, and that can make it more difficult to find solutions.” And positive feedback on a product
motivates the design teams. “After the severe earthquake in Turkey, a customer wrote to us thanking us because his standby gensets were the only ones in the area that were running reliably. That was welcome news and filled us with pride.”
In 2012, she handed over the assembly liaison role to a colleague to make room for her next project, developing the new fourth and fifth-generation Gendrive engines.
Ready to go for another 25 years
Judith Keller has never got bored with the Series 4000. “Every single application in the series has its specific details and requirements to be met.” No two tasks are the same.
The 25th anniversary of the Series 4000 makes this designer proud. “It's such a great product that
I've always been involved with in some way throughout my career to date. It's just amazing how versatile this engine is. From the first marine prototype to the huge product range the
Series 4000 is today. It's a great success story for Rolls-Royce, and especially for us employees who have contributed to it, each in our own capacity.”
Since April 2021, Judith Keller has been in Platform Development for diesel genset engines and is working on the Series 2000 and Series 4000 gensets. What are she and her colleagues looking to put into full production next? The next-gen Series 4000, of course!