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Interview

Wouter Mink – Managing Director, Mammoet Australia

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Mammoet Australia’s Wouter Mink details the company’s leading operations and how it has been delivering despite logistical and environmental challenges. He expands on the company’s ambitions to be increasingly present in the decision-making process of projects, and describes Mammoet as a company that prioritizes time, in an era where project operators are eager than ever to optimize and shorten construction timelines.

Prior to becoming the Managing Director for Australia in January 2016, you were involved with Mammoet for over four years. What were the company’s main milestones in Australia during this period?

Over the course of the past four years, Mammoet has been the main heavy lift and transport contractor for three major LNG projects. Mobilization and safe execution of work has been the key achievement over these years. Chevron’s Gorgon project included navigating challenging environmental considerations as well as transporting and installing large modules at the project’s location on Barrow Island. While Gorgon operations were in full swing, we started works at the INPEX Ichthys project in the Timor Sea, and the other Chevron project, Wheatstone. Considering this unprecedented number of megaproject constructions in Australia, we have been keen to ensure that we retain the appropriate level of skill throughout our team, while also maintaining a balance of international experts as well as developing local talent.

Upholding these standards in these projects have been some of our highlighting successes, in addition to meeting our deadline goals on schedule, and executing our projects with an excellent safety record. This indisputably speaks for the quality of crew that we have managed to bring together on our project sites. In addition to our large-scale projects, we have a permanent division at Mammoet providing heavy lift, specialized transport, and plant shutdown services.

Regarding Gorgon specifically, how did the Class A requirements and the stringent Natural Quarantine management System require adaptation in operational processes?

Upon bringing any equipment into Australia, it must be quarantine-compliant, prioritizing cleanliness and being free of debris. Standards required for Barrow Island meant taking this another step further ensuring that equipment is absolutely spotless before arrival on site. This undertaking involved for example the removal of engines from equipment and we actually found it more practical to bring most equipment completely new, rather than using resources to refurbish used gear. We commissioned a full-time environmental manager to oversee the mobilization process and ensure that our equipment was modified where needed to adhere to the environmental standards. The intricacy required for such an undertaking, considering the equipment utilizing elements such as fuel and hydraulic oil, required this particular guidance, ensuring that our projects did not encounter any breeches of regulatory protocol. As an example we fitted our SPMTs with special lights that do not upset the natural marine environment in the proximity of the project. “Turtle-friendly” lighting, as we endearingly refer to it, ensures that local flora and fauna remain protected and unharmed during our operations. Components such as these represent the additional challenges that come along in the execution of our projects.

What are the remaining challenges that Mammoet will have to overcome before the Ichthys and Wheatstone constructions are finally completed?

Our consistent focus on a daily basis is to continue safe and timely installation of the remaining modules. Besides a “can do” attitude, this requires a strict discipline ensuring that all safety protocols are met. These values are deeply embedded in our corporate culture and combined with the capabilities of our state-of-the-art equipment and innovative engineering we ensure the works will be completed successfully.

As Country Manager, how do you feel when your company holds such a key strategic responsibility in Gorgon, the biggest single LNG investment in Australia’s history, and has played a fundamental role in establishing Australia as an energy superpower?

There is an immense pride that comes along with being recognized for having the capabilities to work on such an endeavor. Beyond this, actually pulling it off feels like a bigger accomplishment, all while making sure that we make a minimal environmental impact. Gorgon presented tremendous logistical, operational and environmental challenges, which we have been able to overcome, which we believe serves to best demonstrate our capabilities at Mammoet.

After contributing to these three world-class projects in Australia, demonstrating that you are an ideal party to deliver the other contracts as well, how do you now plan to leverage this contribution in the upcoming years?

It is commonly understood that long-term contracted LNG projects are intimately linked with oil prices, emphasizing an Index-factor, primarily in the Asian LNG markets. Naturally, this means that cost of construction is a major factor in the feasibility of launching new projects. Navigating new business opportunities in Australia, particularly for those associated with LNG, will require pushing the boundaries of modularized construction concepts.

From a managerial perspective, at Mammoet, our business is no longer purely about moving large objects. Rather than size or weight, what we like to think of as our primary product is time efficiency. Time spent in construction is not only expensive because of the high quantity of labour on site, but also because these projects often take years before taps are open and effective commercialization begins yielding return on investment. Ensuring that less construction takes place on site is one aspect that time can be utilized more efficiently, resulting in quicker projects. The more innovative ways we can find to speed up the construction process, the greater added value we are able to provide to our projects. Another key aspect that we are focusing on, representing an element of high value of our clients, is reducing downtime of plants when there is a shutdown

We have been known for the unique capability our state-of-the-art equipment but all this power is nothing without brains. Looking towards the future, what Mammoet is thus striving for is for our solution experts to be involved in the design process and in the initial stages of projects. Together we can push the boundaries of what is possible in the quest to optimize construction timelines.

How did you overcome any challenges in exercising your Dutch expertise, all while establishing a team of local talent and utilizing the resources at your disposal in the Australian market?

The most important thing when addressing such a challenge is attitude. We were fortunate to find that there are many people in Australia ready and eager to learn the skills necessary to be a part of our team. For the three LNG projects, we brought in over 1,300 axle lines to a country where SPMTs were not used on a large scale before. Ensuring local content, this required the training of a substantial local workforce for which we brought in international employees already experienced in complex SPMT operations. The training requires a solid theoretical understanding of the equipment and procedures, but also a practical understanding which can only be gained working alongside experts in the field. We have been able to build an outstanding Australian team that is capable of executing projects worldwide. The development of this expertise locally will prove to be a vital asset for our company globally as well, as new projects present themselves.

What do you foresee for the future of Mammoet in Australia?

Many of the projects in which we are involved are huge in scale, and entail equipment from a global fleet. This requires that such a fleet must be moved around the world wherever a project is based. This naturally implies that the size of our local workforce fluctuates depending on projects. Australia has a lot of untapped resources available, and pushing the boundaries of modular construction further, we are confident that there is still good potential for new projects throughout the region. Over the past decade Australia has seen massive invested in expansion of production capacity in both LNG and Mining presenting ample opportunities for plant maintenance and turnaround projects. Mammoet will retain a permanent footprint in the country regardless of whether a large-scale project is currently underway. In the coming years, we hold it as a priority to continue growing our permanent division, and establish a committed crew comprising local Australian talent.

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