Ship Designers – Michiel Wijsmuller, President – Netherlands
The president of Offshore Ship Designers discusses the relatively recent founding of the company, and how it has become an innovator in the field of ship design while remaining independent.
How did Offshore Ship Designers (OSD) come into being, and what have been some achievements since its creation?
OSD came into being around six years ago, by the coming together of WorldWise Marine Engineering, which was our company here, and IMT Marine Consultants from Scotland. In Europe, we are present in two countries: here in the Netherlands, and in the UK. In the UK we have three offices spread throughout the region. We have also started operations in China, where we now have two offices with a total of almost 80 employees. Lastly, we have a small office in Singapore, where we assist local clients and have a presence for commercial reasons as well, of course. Singapore is very central and we have many clients based there. It therefore makes sense for us to have an office there, even a small one. The group now consists of over 120 people. Our ship designs are very much focused on aspects of the offshore oil and gas industry as well as the offshore wind industry. But we also design other boat types; for example, we design ferries and different types of fishing boats. We are not however, building big tankers and container vessels; but rather, we focus on specialist vessels—for example, sea going tugboats.
Independent ship design companies are rare these days. What are the characteristics of OSD that have allowed you emerge as a strong yet simultaneously independent company?
The fact that we are independent and very flexible is our main advantage. Being independent means that the ship owners are able to install whatever equipment they like, and we have no fixed ties with certain equipment suppliers. In this respect, we are very flexible. Furthermore, we are also flexible in the sense that we listen very well to the ship owner and his requirements for a certain ship type. Although for tugboats, we have more or less a standard range of tugs, which we call the Azistern. This is because tugboats are small and we still want to offer our clients a competitive rate. We have found that it is much better if we offer a standard range of tugs, because it prevents the design costs from being too high. These tugs are an offshoot of an R&D project we did together with Smit, and a local tugboat company, to see if we could power a tug with hydrogen.
You also produce larger PSV type vessels. What are the qualities of the PSVs that you are most proud of?
Perhaps less obvious than with the tugboats, for the PSVs we have developed the S-bow, which makes the ship very comfortable for the crew when in motion. We also develop big PSVs propelled by azipods together with one of our main clients from Singapore. This is quite new and it is for increased mobility and better efficiency. These are not the cheapest solutions, of course, but they are very innovative. Being an innovative company is very important for us.
In terms of your overall growth strategy, where do you see your principal demand increasing, and where are the most exciting markets and growth drivers?
We see the most growth potential in the Far East, with China growing the fastest. Over the last three years, the group doubled its sales, though I don’t know if we will achieve this going forward. However, we will definitely strive for this in the future.
What are the main challenges with regard to this internationalization move, and how are you tackling these challenges?
For the Far East market, we will focus more on standard designs, even for the bigger offshore support vessels. This would somewhat mimic our tugboat model, which has been a great success for us thus far. It will not be fixed though; We will try to maintain our flexibility and variety at the same time. We’re adopting this strategy because in the Far East, operators like to have the same boat as their main competitors, which is quite different compared to Europe, where people want to have their own designs.
When it comes to designing these ships, do you find access to human resources abundant? How do you ensure that the designs you make are reliable?
Naval architects are definitely in short supply. In Holland, we still have a very complete maritime cluster in all respects. We have a number of education institutions where you can study naval architecture on several levels, but it’s not sufficient for the demand. We therefore employ people from around the world, not only from Holland or the UK. We are looking for both mature talent and also new talent that we can ourselves train.
It is not only the design that needs to be reliable; it is the shipyard as well. With us, the owner is completely free to choose which shipyard s/he wants to use. This is yet another aspect of our flexibility that communicates reliability to our clients.
What have been your principal achievements since 2008, and where do you see OSD in the next five years?
Our main achievement since 2008 that we have developed a full range of offshore support vessels, which is something that we are very proud of. We also have seismic support vessels and light construction support vessels for example. We even have designed a cable layer which we did for Boskalis. We now have a full range of designs that we can make available to our clients, which I think is quite an achievement in such a short amount of time. As for the future, it is crucial for us to remain flexible and reliable for our clients. Furthermore, we would like to maintain our full range of vessels, large and small; it is a fundamental part of who we are as an offshore ship design company.