Engaging Competence Worldwide
Operations all over the world challenge Imtech Marine to employ specific qualities in projects from different company branches and from different regions for optimal results. Managing director Eric van den Adel sees the need to invest in high level education in emerging industries.
“Today, we have 89 sites around the world from which we service our clients”, Van den Adel remarks. “As a service provider, we need to be where our clients are. As the operations of our clients have become far more international since the 1990s, we have evolved with them. Not only has a major share of worldwide ship construction moved to East Asia, also the operations of ship owners have adopted a far more international perspective.
Ship servicing is an ever more continuous process, that is performed in ports around the world. A ship owner no longer moves his ship to the home port for temporary servicing. This means we need to be able to operate at all the ports where our clients dock. Next to this, an innovative approach is also necessary. We have established Global Technical Assistance Centres in Rotterdam, Singapore and Houston, which are available around the clock, that can monitor ships and their onboard technology 24 hours a day. From these service points, we are able to perform remote maintenance when necessary, making our service support highly efficient and effective.”
It has been an accelerated process towards global presence. “Some fifteen years ago, the predecessor of Imtech, Van Rietschoten & Houwers, was mainly servicing local Dutch customers”, Van den Adel recalls. The technical service company was one of the founding partners in Imtech. Establishing Imtech in its present form in 1993 was the final step in an ongoing series of mergers and take- overs, leading the company to become the biggest technical service provider in Europe. In 1860, Jan Jacob van Rietschoten started the company following a career in commercial shipping.
From the port of Rotterdam, he has been innovative in technology services for the shipping industry ever since. Nowadays, Imtech Marine incorporates a variety of companies and branches, delivering all kinds of highly technological systems in the areas of electrical systems and propulsion, integrated bridge systems, communication and navigation, automation, HVAC, fire protection, and onboard entertainment systems. “We do not deliver products, we provide integrated systems including design, engineering, installation, commissioning, and include lifetime service.”
“For Imtech Marine, having Radio Holland join the company in 2006 was a big step toward building an international service network,” the director explains. “Imtech Marine was working hard to service customers in their increasingly international operations, while Radio Holland as a provider of high-tech onboard navigation and communication systems had already built up a network of service stations at all the major shipping ports. It enabled us to rapidly expand the international network for providing the lifetime service on all technology in our portfolio.”
“It was a step we needed to take. If internationally operating customers like Heerema, Allseas, Fugro, Boskalis, DEME or Spliethoff, to name just a few, have our systems installed, we cannot maintain this business relation by saying: we can only service your installations when they are in the Netherlands. These vessels and installations move and operate around the world. Our customers frequently request our services and specific expertise on location. This is why we keep expanding our global network with locations where our customers need us to be. Next to this, we are dedicated to providing true life cycle support, reducing downtime to a minimum.
Our operations not only follow customers in the engagement of their vessels with our systems installed around the globe, we also follow ship owners to the yards they choose to have new builds constructed. Clients that order technologically complex vessels with highly specialised onboard equipment, nowadays not necessarily choose Western European yards. If they have their vessels and platforms constructed at Asian yards, we need to be present at the yard to engineer, install and monitor the installation of our systems closely. Integrating all these onboard installations into one centrally controlled and operated, automated system is something we need to do ourselves at the yard, too. This means our efforts of internationalisation need to be twofold: setting up a service network at all the main shipping ports and at the same time having project teams at the yards our clients choose.”
Van den Adel indicates China, Korea and Japan as dominating countries in shipbuilding the last decade. The shipbuilding industry in those countries is capable of constructing ever more complex vessels. Emerging shipbuilding countries, he pinpoints, are Vietnam, Canada, Brazil and Turkey. Having switch board producer Elkon in Tuzla as a part of the Imtech Marine group, enables the service provider to be actively present within Turkish shipbuilding industry. Elkon has become a part of Imtech in 2010. “Elkon is now striving to acquire orders for specialised naval vessels. Our expertise may help. A major order for a series of three navy vessels was signed last month.”
The international network of sites is being carefully expanded, with new offices in Rio de Janeiro and Santos, Brazil to be opened soon and the expansion of activities in Singapore and other Eastern Asian countries. The service network nowadays also sees a concentration of activities along the African West coast, with service centres in Nigeria, Congo and Angola, and service calls in total counting up to 52 sites in West Africa. Van den Adel comments: “That is something I am very proud of. The Asia-Pacific region, Northwest Australia and the Indonesian isle of Borneo show concentrations of offshore activities. These concentrations mark recent developments in offshore explorations. This means these areas have our close attention.”
“In countries where we start operations, we try to hire as much local staff as possible. However, we acknowledge that specific competences are sometimes needed from other regions. Traditionally, the Netherlands is a strong competence base of know-how about propulsion technology, system integration and advanced onboard equipment.
This position remains. Additionally, we have our centre of excellence in the field of heating, ventilation and air conditioning in Hamburg, Germany. Our Shanghai plant is capable of building switch boards to advanced specifications. Operating globally, it is our challenge to make these outstanding competences available for projects to achieve the best possible quality. In the case of the three recently launched offshore vessels built in Singapore, Seven Borealis, Rockpiper and Flintstone, we have combined expertise from different branches into these ships. The Dutch designed the installations and engineered the integration. Switchboards came from Shanghai, while the installation of all equipment was handled by project teams from Imtech Marine Singapore.”
“We need to train specialised engineers all over the world”, Van den Adel stresses. “Complex tasks like setting up the whole installation for first time operation need to be performed by highly trained specialists that oversee the whole of an integrated installation and understand the parameters and possible flaws of all components. Typically, we need engineers from the Netherlands to support this. Yet, we will involve more and more local engineers. It seems not many Dutch are very keen to be stationed as an expatriate in remote areas for longer periods. I notice much more willingness to work abroad with Australians or Norwegians, for example. It is however unavoidable. Still, whenever we want to start up at a new site in some emerging shipbuilding or shipping area, we need the local presence of the Dutch engineers to make sure our expertise is applied for our customers at these locations, too.”
Reflecting on remote monitoring, low-emission propulsion and the unmanned vessel, Van den Adel shows ambition to play an important role in transferring to a green and efficiently operated fleet. “Strangely, notions with ship owners still seem to be that environmental issues cost a lot of money. We focus on installing systems that save energy. We are very advanced already in complex simulations in which we demonstrate the benefits of our solutions. More ship owners commit to the need to go green every day. It remains our dedication to help customers to achieve the most efficient operation of their vessels, seeing minimal down time, reduced emissions and lowest total cost of ownership. Projects like the recently developed Scottish ferry that can run zero-emission on shore-charged batteries lead the way to future shipping.”