Niche Expertise: Flexibility and quality

The bulk of the world's large commercial tonnage, from boxships to VLCC tankers and floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels, is today built in the Far East - mainly in Japan, South Korea and increasingly China.

Traditional shipbuilding industries in Europe lost out some time ago to the low labour costs and theworld.jpg (17351 bytes)competitiveness of Far Eastern shipbuilders, and industries in countries such as the UK shrunk to a fraction of their size 50 years ago. Although a handful of Norwegian shipping companies operate large commercial vessels, Norway itself has never been a builder of big ships and its shipbuilding industry has not experienced a massive decline similar to that in the UK. On the contrary, it has steadily grown over the years. Norwegian yards have historically concentrated on the production of fishing vessels and smaller tonnage for a wide range of applications, including military vessels. Shipbuilding has been a necessity in Norway with its fjords and mountains, simply as a means to get around, and the country's engineering expertise and indigenous technologies, rooted in the crafting of sturdy wooden vessels, have been built up over many generations. The discovery of huge hydrocarbon deposits on Norway's continental shelf in the late 1960s has also led former Norwegian shipbuilders to become world leaders in the construction of large-scale offshore installations for the oil-and-gas industry.

 

Today Norwegian shipyards - numbering a few large and medium-sized facilities, located predominantly on the west coast, can accommodate newbuildings of up to 45,000 deadweight tonnes. The focus is on designing and building specialised ships equipped with advanced, highly integrated systems for propulsion, manoeuvring, monitoring and technical reporting, cargo handling and the latest electronic navigation and ship-to-shore communications solutions. Norwegian yards are also known for the strength of their project management and quality control, for providing a good working environment for their staff and for getting vessels delivered on time.

 

Norway has never had a state-run shipbuilding enterprise and its three major international shipbuilders are private concerns. The Aker Kvaerner Yards Group covers a number of facilities building ferries and ro-ros, reefers, offshore supply and research vessels and, at its Aukra site, specialised chemical carriers with stainless-steel tanks. The Ulstein Group concentrates on offshore supply, seismic-survey and cable-laying vessels, while the Umoe Group focuses on multipurpose offshore vessels, fishing vessels, ro-ros and at its Umoe Mandal facility the production of naval vessels built with FRP composite materials, particularly mine countermeasure vessels and fast patrol boats. Typical of smaller independent yards is Fosen Mek, which successfully delivered to shipowner ResidenSea in 2002 the groundbreaking, apartment-based cruiseship The World, designed by renowned Norwegian naval architects Petter Yran and Bjorn Storbraaten.

 

Norway's has a dedicated shipbuilding association, Norwegian Shipbuilders, a sales and marketing-oriented organization with 45 shipyard members. It represents a unified yet internally competitive group that is continually being driven to find new ways to reduce costs and deliver custom-designed ships of the highest quality. The organization also acts as a central hub to help shipowner clients from around the world to evaluate and decide on the best available option, as all members compete with each other on price.

 

Keen competitors
Competitiveness is the central issue for Norway's shipyards and ship's gear manufacturers alike. As shipowners the world over assess the total life-cycle costs of equipment in their purchasing strategies, suppliers are compelled to seek new ways to reduce costs and to create advanced, labour-saving solutions that will contribute to their own and their clients' competitive edge. At the same time, shipyard customers conscious of their bottom line are demanding multi-system packages from either a single-source supplier or a small group of suppliers working together in turnkey contract arrangements. This has necessitated an increased sharing of knowledge across the industry and a hard-to-match spirit of design innovation. Norwegian ship's gear manufacturers are also increasingly entering into joint ventures in production and licensing agreements that improve productivity, cost efficiency and market share - at home and abroad. The lessons learnt during the setback in the oil-and-gas industry in 1999, resulting in the biggest fall in capacity utilisation across the Norwegian maritime sector, including shipbuilding, in decades, are also proving their worth and keeping Norwegian suppliers' eyes firmly on the competitive ball. While cooperation pacts abound, small independent companies nevertheless flourish by working closely with agents and distributors worldwide to meet the needs of the market.

 

Quality can safely be said to be the hallmark of Norwegian-made ship's equipment and services. In product development and business practice, Norway has adopted the ISO 9000 quality-management standards and increasingly the latest ISO 14000 environmental-management standards. Quality assurance and control procedures are applied to ensure that products are designed, manufactured, installed and commissioned in the appropriate ways, and all equipment that is used in or under water has to undergo strict testing. With their native experience in the challenging waters of the North Sea, Norwegian companies excel at producing durable equipment that can stand up to the rigour of harsh environments. Quality is a necessity.

 

brunvoll8.jpg (21771 bytes)Brunvoll Thrusters installed in the bow of an offshore vessel

 

Export innovators
The renowned flexibility of Norwegian shipyards and gear manufacturers has turned the once-conservative outfitters of Norway's domestic fishing fleet into high-tech providers of products and services for the entire international maritime sector. Deliveries to and collaboration with domestic shipowners have traditionally formed the starting point for all major export contracts with foreign owners and shipbuilders. Today, approximately 60 percent of all ship's gear developed and produced in Norway is exported. Major Norwegian corporations with an established reputation as "heavy-equipment" exporters worldwide include Kongsberg Maritime AS, which manufactures navigation/bridge and propulsion-control systems, vessel-traffic management solutions, dynamic-positioning instrumentation, sensors, transmitter and sonars. The company recently won a NOK 70 million contract to supply integrated navigation and automation systems for four LNG gas carriers being built at Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in South Korea for Norwegian shipowner Bergesen DY. The equipment will be delivered through 2004. Such contracts are typical of Norwegian suppliers exporting specialized components. The Norwegian wing of the international ABB group of companies is a world leader in marine electrotechnology, producing on-board drive systems, turbochargers and total automation systems, including the groundbreaking Compact Azipod propulsion system that provides enhanced vessel manoeuvrability and safety, fuel savings and reduced noise and vibration. Brunvoll AS also competes as a world-class supplier of thruster systems including tunnel and azimuth and other low noise thrusters and control systems.

 

On the lighter end of the equipment scale, Jotun AS is a global leader in marine coatings - paints, varnish, powder coatings and cathodic protection - and its products are currently protecting no less than 10,000 vessels worldwide. The array of products available from other companies is vast, ranging from sewage systems, accommodation modules and marine interiors, notably for offshore platforms and cruise vessels, fire-detection and survival systems, lighting systems, helicopter landing platforms and much more. The key to the success of such companies is that each has consciously pursued specialisation in segments requiring advanced technological insight. Decades of experience, resourcefulness and openness to ingenuity reinforce the quality stamp, in materials, production methodologies and customer-relationship management (CRM). Norwegian companies are also maximising the power of software, developing top-notch communications and other fully integrated systems that are making modern ships extremely efficient to run, and to track. Captains and crew can also be in touch with head offices, emergency services and family in a way unthinkable 20 years ago - thanks to wireless satellite communications pioneer Telenor Broadband Services, whose parent company Telenor, through its shareholding in Inmarsat, can provide global reach over four ocean regions.

"The Norwegian shipping industry is in a good position to capture its share of the expected growth in international sea transport and in other shipping-related activities in the years ahead. The industry means a great deal for Norway and our districts. Our shipping industry has the expertise, the ability to adjust and the necessary innovation skills on the nautical, technical and commercial levels."

Grete Knudsen, former Norwegian Minister of Shipping

 

Green frontrunner
Norwegian shipyards and ship's gear manufacturers have also responded quickly to the dynamic current of change within the global shipping industry in attitudes and action governing safety and the environment. They offer reliable products and services that are contributing to industry standards for environmental technology and a host of other solutions to help vessels and their crews face the rigours of service at sea. Reducing emissions and marine pollution, while saving lives and property, is paramount to Norway's maritime industry. Norwegian merchant ships have been judged the safest and cleanest in the world, consistent with Norway's leadership stance advocating the implementation of stricter rules and regulations, such as the International Safety Management (ISM) Code drawn up by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Phase I of the ISM Code came into force on 1 July 1998 and was applicable to passenger ships including high-speed craft, tankers, bulk carriers and cargo high-speed craft of 500 gross tonnes and over. Phase II of the Code came into effect in July 2002 and applies to all other vessels above 500 gross tonnes not covered under Phase I. These include general cargoships, survey vessels, containerships, ocean tugs, mobile offshore drilling units, reefers, car carriers, livestock carriers, cement carriers and woodchip carriers. All vessels are required to carry a valid safety-management system certificate and a copy of the owner's document of compliance. Without them, port-state control authorities will detain the ship and suspend its license to operate.

skipsverft.jpg (69667 bytes)Unitor specialises in safety-related solutions for new buildings, conversions and retrofits.

 

All Norwegian shipping companies have implemented safety-management systems that reduce the chances of human error, provide improved communications, reduce the risk of personal injuries and pollution and facilitate safe cargo handling and shipment. Norwegian outfitters are also in the race to be clean, and thanks in part to technological advances in electronic monitoring, alarm and control systems by Norwegian companies, the shipping industry's record continues to improve. Norway is also helping to finance IMO studies examining targets for stabilizing gas emissions from ships as laid down in new rules to the international treaty on maritime pollution (MARPOL). It has also ratified the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships, adopted at the end of 2001. Great strides will still be needed but Norway's national mantra of clean, safe sailing gives the country a competitive edge and sets the example for other nations as the scrutinizing public, maritime authorities and the industry itself prioritise health and safety in an effort to avoid future potential disasters and environmental degradation.

 

Strength in research
Norway's rich maritime research base is vital to its role as a world leader in ship's equipment and shipbuilding. Many maritime engineers now working in the private sector are products of the Faculty of Marine Technology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. The faculty works in close collaboration with


marintek3.jpg (53919 bytes)Model testing in the ocean basin at MARINTEK. An oil platform is being tested in three different scales.

 

Marintek, the marine research division of Scandinavia's largest contract-research organisation, the Sintef group, under the umbrella of the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute. Marintek boasts the most modern laboratories in the world for the development of ships and propulsion systems, including a sophisticated, 10 metre-deep Ocean Basin tank used for environmental simulation including wind, waves and current. The institute's towing tanks feature state-of-the-art dynamometers for ship-model testing that capture test data in 3D. Marintek also provides a base for researchers to spin off independent companies, taking their expertise out into the market. An enterprise such as specialist ICT house proNavis is typical of such a move, established in January 2002 by engineers and naval architects previously employed at Marintek. The company provides product development services in maritime sales and project management, design and engineering, as well as procurement and administration. It has also launched an annual Web-IT Maritime exhibition and conference, the second of which takes place in March 2003, gathering together executives from across the maritime spectrum to study innovative applications for Internet technologies in shipping - another area in which Norway is breaking new ground. Marintek is also involved in running environmental initiatives on an international basis, such as a recent survey into greenhouse gas emissions by ships produced for the IMO in cooperation with Det Norske Veritas, Norway's Econ Centre for Economic Analysis and Carnegie Mellon University in the USA.

 

Classification society Det Norkse Veritas (DNV) is also a major R&D player in Norway, conducting research into a wide variety of transport systems such as the ongoing Bondship Project, funded by the GROWTH programme of the European Commission. The project involves 13 partners from 7 nations and aims to introduce environmentally friendly, adhesive bonding processes for joining lightweight materials in building passenger ships and high-speed craft. DNV is active in many international consortia and also has bilateral R&D agreements with prestigious overseas institutions such as the Department of Ocean Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

 

Public financing for research is made available through the Research Council of Norway, notably its maritime and offshore (Maroff) programme, which aims particularly at projects initiated by small and medium-sized companies that wish to design innovative, value-added products and services. However, research in the shipping community is not only limited to product-oriented innovation. On the pure business side, Norwegian economists are also bringing their expertise to bear on the future of shipping markets under the banner of Norway's Centre for International Economics and Shipping (SIØS), a partnership between the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH) and the Institute for Research in Economics and Business Administration (SNF). The centre studies issues related to international trade and shipping, and has particular expertise in economic integration and industrial policy, international macroeconomics and international tax policy. It is also associated with major EU projects in collaboration with institutions such as the London School of Economics, the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm and the International Association of Maritime Economists (IAME).

 

 




Plugging
a Market gap


In what is an all-Norwegian innovation, the Ulstein shipbuilding group delivered in May 2002 the first of a new generation of vessels specially constructed for laying and maintaining fibre-optic cables. Born out of the yard's traditional cable-layer experience, the Normand Cutter was designed by Vik-Sandvik AS and is owned by Solstad AS. It is the first ship of its kind to be equipped with a built-in cable deck affording improved safety and protection for crew and gear. The fastest cable ship ever built, it is unique in that it is specially designed for rapid refitting, with an eye to development in new markets.


The development of this vessel reflects growing demands for telecommunications worldwide, notably for Internet connections, which have presented shipowners with a new market oppurtunity. Breaks in fibre-optic cables cost telecom operators huge amounts, and they must be fixed as quickly as possible. A new type of vessel was highly sought-after and Solstad filled the niche. It is building two units for charter to US telecoms giants Tycom, both with a range of 6,000 nautical miles and a maximum speed of 17 knots. They can accomodate a crew of 70 and will be able to lay cables even in heavy seas using a sophisticated dynamic positioning system directing dual diesel-propulsion systems, dual side-thrusters and retractable azimuth bow thrusters.


Length 127.5 metres
Beam: 23.4 metres
Deadweight: 10,000 tonnes
Cable load capacity 7,000 tonnes

 

Looking ahead

A culture of consensus fuels successful collaboration between shipowners, yards, research establishments and ship's gear manufacturers in Norway. The domestic shipping industry's survival also rests on its ability to react and adapt to rapid fluctuations in the global economic climate and their knock-on effects on the various freight markets. However, in a globalized world where international trade is growing, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, the need to renew the world fleet and emerging markets for maritime offshore operations are sure to generate new and exciting business opportunities for the Norwegian maritime industry.

 

Norway is also playing a central role in the development of European shipping, where there is a new enthusiasm for the short-sea transport of goods. The EU is funding major cross-border research projects into the transition from land transport to sea transport, primarily to lessen the pressure of congested roads on the continent and because shipping is without a doubt more environmentally friendly. If the goals are realised there should be a marked increase in Europe's short-sea fleet, and Norway's shipping companies, shipbuilders and equipment suppliers are in a lead position to reap the benefits.

 

Recessions come and go, and despite the potential threat of terrorist activity affecting shipping, the future is looking bright for the international shipping industry and for Norwegian enterprises that build and kit out quality vessels and offshore installations.

 

 

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