Wednesday, June 12, 2024

From Sawmills to Smurfs

Wärtsilä Funa Solutions builds on company’s legacy of innovation and technology

by Martin Palicki

ABOVE: The Smurfs say goodbye to guests at the end of the Smurfs Studio Tour MOTIONGATE™ Dubai, within Dubai Parks & Resorts. Courtesy Adam Bien.

Approximately every 20 seconds in Dubai, Papa Smurf waves at people and promises he’ll see them “in the movies.” It’s hard to imagine, in the mid 1830s when Nils Ludvig Arppe purchased a small sawmill in Wärtsilä, Finland, that one day his company would help develop the systems that bring Papa Smurf to life.

That company is Wärtsilä and they integrated the AV systems that shine a light on and play back the voice of Papa Smurf, along with dozens of other characters inside the Smurfs Studio Tour dark ride at MOTIONGATE™ Dubai, within Dubai Parks & Resorts.

Innovation and Relationships

In the 1850s Arppe saw an opportunity to grow the company and converted the Wärtsilä sawmill into an iron works. As a result, the company expanded through the turn of the century to provide a wide array of metal products. By the 1950s, the company was building engines, and on its way to becoming a leading provider of marine engines and power plants. Soon, Wärtsilä was able to provide a ship’s entire engine room, and their dominance in that market expanded.

Since its early days, the company had been committed to letting innovation guide its growth and business directions. As the shipping industry began to move to Asia, Wärtsilä noticed this trend early on and established partnerships in China that continue to prove fruitful today.

Similarly, when the company saw the importance of conservation and the environment, they took steps to innovate in the area of fuel efficiency and clean emissions.

“We invest in advanced technology,” says Paul Weber, Wärtsilä Funa Solutions President. “We focus on lifecycle performance, build products that last and try to be a good steward of the environment at the same time.”

In recent years, the company has strategically acquired organizations to further enhance the services they provide for the marine industry. “We are here to provide integration services to the guest areas of the cruise ship – the entertainment and communication areas such as theaters, restaurants, bars, atriums, and around the pool deck,” explains Rusty Rustad, Manager for Wärtsilä Funa Solutions.

In 2015 Wärtsilä acquired Funa as part of a group of companies it bought from L3, a technology and communications provider. Wärtsilä found the Funa team attractive because they were already an established market leader in the marine AV sector with over 40 years of experience. Although their expertise in providing design, engineering, integration and consulting services to the cruise ship industry was of primary interest to the company, they also recognized the value Funa brought in their land-based projects like airports, hotels, museums, specialty attractions and, particularly, theme parks.

“Our interest in theme parks is a natural progression of our business line offering. Theme park development is strong throughout the world and we rely on theme park innovations to drive entertainment concepts for our core business line of cruise ships,” explains Paul Weber, Wärtsilä Funa Solutions President.

An opportunity for Wärtsilä Funa Solutions to showcase its skills in the theme park market came with Dubai Parks and Resorts. Developed by DXB Entertainments, Dubai Parks and Resorts is an integrated resort comprised of hotels, theme parks, shopping and entertainment. The project is in a continual state of development, with new attractions, parks and components being announced regularly. It is the first multi-park resort development to open in the UAE. As part of the project, Wärtsilä Funa Solutions was the primary AV contractor for all the AV components (including projection, audio, cinematic projection, projection AV systems and AV controls for attractions) in nearly 50 venues and major attractions (including the Smurfs ride) across the park’s Motiongate, Bollywood and Riverland parks.

Performers celebrate at the grand opening of Bollywood Parks Dubai, part of Dubai Parks and Resorts Photo courtesy of Dubai Parks and Resorts

One reason Wärtsilä Funa Solutions was chosen for the Dubai project was because of the resources the larger company provided.

“Wärtsilä is a large company, with a presence in over 70 countries and over 200 cities around the world,” said Vice-President of Sales Sean Reish. “Wärtsilä already had a 35,000 square foot facility in Dubai that would be the local office and production home for the two-year project.”

The plant was home to one of Wärtsilä’s global marine service facilities, fully staffed with clerical and HR staff, ready to assist with the shipping, assembly and programming required for the huge theme park project.

“Our ability to be nimble and be ready to start work almost instantly in nearly every corner of the planet is a huge asset,” said project manager Kevin Cartier. “This was an extraordinarily largescale project that required a substantial amount of resources both locally and internationally. The fact that Wärtsilä had an established presence both there and abroad made achieving our technical integration goals for the resort simple and easily manageable.”

There are other benefits to having a major corporation supporting an AV services company, including financial strength and security and currency flexibility. “We can use our various offices around the world to purchase products in their home country and native currency, passing on that value to our clients as well,” said Reish.

The company also operates entertainment engineering services out of both Europe and the US, providing longer workday exposure for time-critical projects.

Expanding in Orlando

The company’s commitment to the theme park market is strong. In mid-2016 Wärtsilä Funa Solutions opened a new 10,000 square foot production facility in Orlando to handle entertainment engineering and worldwide project management.

“We’ve been in Orlando for over seven years, but we needed to expand into a larger space,” explained Rustad. The company is committed to the new office, and they are looking for additional talent. Currently about 25 staff operate out of that office, but more project managers and technicians with lighting, audio and projection skills are needed in short order.

Moving the relationship forward

The success of the Dubai project has inspired the corporate office to invest in its entertainment service offerings. In addition to helping the company diversify its project portfolio, Wärtsilä is looking at ways to take the technology utilized in the entertainment sector and apply it to their commercial business in other sectors.

The way the team has applied operating and control systems in theme parks is also informing how those systems are utilized in airports, marine ports, and other industrial spaces where paging and alarm systems are required.

“In addition to AV, our command and control experience is portable to military applications,” said Reish. “The expansive variety of applications for our services has ensured that this is an important element to Wärtsilä’s future growth.”

Reish’s team is currently working on projects in Europe, the US and Asia and bidding on multiple projects in China.

“Even though everyone is pleased with the success of our work on the Dubai project, we are not content with the status quo,” said Rustad. “We are a progressive company, but we are only as good as our last delivered project.” • • •

More information on Wärtsilä Funa Solutions is available online at Professionals interested in applying for the open positions should forward their interest letter, resume/cv to: Wärtsilä Funa Solutions, 7101 Presidents Drive, Suite 100, Orlando, FL 32809.

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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