Knowing that its forte lies in heavy lifting and transportation, the company is looking to innovate in the offshore wind market and thinks it’s best not to undertake commissioning and installation scopes, key company officials tells OGN
Ammoet, a global heavy lifting and transport specialist, has set out on a path to refocus, reshape and ramp up new opportunities.
In an interview, company officials, CEO Paul van Gelder, COO Jan Kleijn and Group Commercial Officer Darren Adams, discuss the focus on projects for the renewables sector, its future collaboration with freight forwarding companies and the work being done to refocus Mammoet to support its customers through the coming period of recovery and growth.
What was the thought process behind Mammoet’s current focus on renewable projects?
Gelder: In 2018 we formulated the strategy ‘Reshape to Win’. At that point in time, it was already a strategic imperative for us to diversify our portfolio into other sectors next to petrochemical – which will always be a substantial part of the work we do. We saw the developing renewable energy market as an interesting sector, and a market where we could do more.
Over the last five years, we have gained more experience working in the sector, learning some key lessons along the way. During 2020, we saw a significant acceleration in renewables projects in Western Europe, and also in the US with the change of government. If you take a step back and look at what is happening in the world, you can’t deny that there is a clear push to come out of the coronavirus crisis with a stronger focus on sustainability and renewable energy.
Kleijn: From an operational perspective, if you look to offshore wind, the turbines are getting bigger and bigger, so more and more clients will need the expertise of a company like Mammoet to deal with the increasing size of heavy components involved.
Adams: There’s also a clear overlap with offshore wind. These projects share many key features of the work we are used to doing in the oil and gas fabrication yards from an operational perspective and are taking place in similar locations – making us well placed to serve them.
What challenges is the renewable energy market facing over the next few years?
Gelder: The foremost challenge is of capacity. After the acceleration in demand for renewables projects experienced during 2020, there is a huge need for capacity in the market. So, the large OEMs will have to deliver to the market the required number of turbines. But the supporting industries should also be ready. This is an area where the market needs some further maturity. We’ve seen in the onshore wind market that the setup of contracts was not allowing efficient operations, and for the respective contractors and sub-contractors involved to concentrate on their key areas of expertise. So, to a certain extent, the structure of the contracts needs to standardise and mature; most likely to follow the model laid down for a number of decades in other sectors.
Kleijn: In onshore wind, I think what we will see is a renewed definition of the roles of the players. Due to the relative youth of the market, manufacturers have also been playing the role of installer, when this is not their core area of expertise. However, they have been forced by a lack of capacity in the market to take this role. In offshore wind up to now, farms have been either monopile or jacket-based; so shallow water. As floating offshore wind develops, we will see floating foundations of tens of thousands of tonnes, creating an entirely new ball game once again.
Adams: The size and weights of components could cause a bottleneck in the market, particularly for offshore wind. The traditional way of doing things – where tower sections are assembled one by one then go offshore – is unlikely to ultimately be the preferred assembly method. We’re looking to innovate in the offshore wind market with regard to the handling onshore, and as the industry leader we want to be a partner in this process. We’re looking into innovations that will deliver huge efficiencies and therefore substantial changes in the way the market works.
Gelder: A requirement will develop for heavy lift and transport companies to move into larger weights, because these floating structures can become very massive beasts demanding a lot of lifting capacity. There will be a lot of work in the shipyards but also on land. Moving back to onshore wind, to manage projects most efficiently the market needs to develop and mature, and to recognise that it doesn’t make sense to give certain tasks to certain subcontractors. A heavy lift and transport company is specialised in these functions, so it is not efficient to also put installation and commissioning under the responsibility of the same sub-contractor. That is a different area of expertise and mixing those will result in all kinds of discussions and potential conflicts, which is in the end not good for the development of larger renewable energy projects.
With offshore floating foundations so massive in size, will this mean changes to the way Mammoet approaches operations?
Kleijn: I don’t see that at the moment, though there may be a renewed requirement for mobilisation of large cranes to ports. Also, through our Conbit operation, we are researching how to perform maintenance offshore in a smart way. This will help our customers to avoid bringing the floater back to the port and then needing to have a large crane in place just for maintenance activity, and also help them to avoid having to disconnect anchor cables and re-connect the turbines to the electrical grid again.
Gelder: Because we are still in the infancy phase of this industry – especially with the floating wind turbines – we will see new developments in how to perform much of its scope. The industry has a long way to go and as the market leader in heavy lifting and transport we are looking to play an important role in leading this.
What changes are you making to the Mammoet organisation to refocus on renewables customers?
Gelder: We have decided to set up a global onshore wind group; a group of specialists that will develop our wind portfolio. This will not change the present setup of the regional structure at Mammoet, but this group will oversee all the wind projects in the regions, capture lessons learned, optimise wind-specific assets and also liaise with the Innovations department to find the right innovations to serve this key market.
This wind group is led by Pieter Jacobs, who will be the key account manager for all of the wind OEMs worldwide. We’re looking to set up several framework contracts with them in order to provide them with the best service possible.
Adams: Offshore wind projects will still be operating from our regions, with our Global Segment Lead Francisco Rodrigues, who has significant experience in offshore wind projects, available to support all projects.
Will this affect the way wind projects are sold in any other way?
Gelder: I’m not ashamed to say that we have certainly learned our lessons in the past. It should not be a secret to the industry that there are challenges coming with lump sum projects, both for the developers and sub-contractors in heavy lifting and transport. The lesson that we have experienced is that combining transport, craneage and installation (TCI) is not the ideal approach. In onshore wind, work takes place in an area that can by definition cause delays, thanks to windy conditions, geographic remoteness or other factors. This makes lines of responsibility blurry if the entire TCI scope is undertaken by one sub-contractor. We are promoting a model where the scope is divided with transport and craneage in one hand and installation on the other hand, whereby it’s clear for the developers who holds the responsibility and it’s clear in which direction they need to turn if things are not running as they should be.
We feel comfortable and have undoubted capability in transport and craneage, but installation and commissioning are not part of our core services. So it is better that these scopes are undertaken by specialists in these disciplines. The key here is to have focus and clarity of roles. If you have that, this ultimately gives the developer a platform to have clear contracts in place, and also a better way to assess performance.
If you take out this blurring, you also remove much of the risk of a project. It’s like building a house: whenever you have a delay with the carpenters, the carpenters will start to complain and point at the bricklayers, and the bricklayers will potentially blame the team that laid the foundations. Making sure there is clarity in the roles will help developers or EPCs to manage projects better. Installation, commissioning, controlling the full logistics supply chain – these are activities that require completely different expertise.
Kleijn: There’s a comparison to be made with oil and gas here too. There, you have an owner who hires an EPC contractor for the total package, who then has knowledge of the total scope of work and can request heavy lifting and transport through a freight forwarding company, or from a company like Mammoet. In the past, in wind, the market has operated under a different model, where due to our position as a very knowledgeable provider of heavy lifting and transport we took responsibility for the full scope. However, we are the specialists in heavy lifting and heavy transportation; we want to play that role. We should be honest to ourselves and to the industry: we do not want to undertake commissioning and installation scopes, because they are not what we are best at; they are not our cup of tea.
What is Mammoet doing to make itself more sustainable?
Renewable energy market faces the challenge of capacity
Gelder: I believe that in our industry there will be no silver bullet on sustainability; change will take place due to a combination of factors. So, we already adapted at a quite early stage the gas to liquids (GTL) fuel, which resulted in increased air quality. We’re now looking at electrical cranes and power packs for the SPMT fleet. We’re also looking at hydrogen as an option, as it is quite a strong energy carrier and will allow us to operate in remote locations and still do so in a sustainable way. Besides these measures, we are using our trailer power assist system to reduce the number of trucks needed for transportations; our Enviro-Mat additive to provide a solid lifting surface that can be crushed into the ground after projects without environmental impact, and we have also switched from hardwood timbers to sustainable bamboo across all operations. So, there are many developments; we are not betting on one horse. We are following all opportunities and are tapping into what we think are the best solutions.
Kleijn: We are using our role as market leader to push our traditional suppliers to come up with better alternatives. We are putting a lot of work into making our own fleet more energy and fuel-efficient, with smaller power packs to avoid idling engine time. We are also looking into the transition of power packs and powertrains to electrify them.
Moving on, how has Mammoet worked with freight forwarding companies in the past?
Kleijn: Since we are a market leader and every day we undertake projects all around the world, we have focused on the transportation of our own equipment. We have an in-house department that achieves this in the most economical way for us, making sure that the right equipment is at the right place at the right time. At the same time, upon request from certain customers we have in the past utilised these structures to provide logistics as a service to our customers for third-party cargo.
How does Mammoet intend to work alongside freight forwarding companies in the future?
Adams: We would like to work more closely with freight forwarding companies from the very early stages of projects. This will help us to provide guidance from the very start of projects on what is possible in terms of transportation, and hence allow our customers to realise significant whole-project efficiencies.
We recognise that owner/operators of large facilities work with freight forwarders to streamline the shipment of both smaller project cargo and larger items, and that it can be more efficient to package these transportations together.
Gelder: This forms the next step of a strategy that we initiated in 2018, which was to bring focus to the services we provide to the market. We have been doing that in several areas, but we decided not to refocus in this area until now because of the acquisition of ALE, which was a strong partner for freight forwarders. We decided to follow this strategy and concentrate on optimising the service we provide to freight forwarders. This is what we are doing, and we’ve had initial successes. For example, we have teamed up with OFCO; a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Ports and Allianz Logistics, which positions Mammoet strongly to supply our services to all major projects carried out during the coming years in the Middle East and Africa.
Adams: This is about growth and about focusing our expertise where it will create value – and this will vary on a project-by-project basis. Sometimes we’ll be working with freight forwarders, but there will be some occasions when freight forwarders will be working for us. For example, if we receive a request to bid for a project with a majority breakbulk cargo, Mammoet might be invited to take the lead on its transportation, due to the size of the loads. However, we will align the specific work scopes accordingly, and this will have the positive side-effect of de-risking the project for all involved. We are not saying that we’re never going to take on the shipping, but we’ll do it in partnership with a forwarder.
So, does this change the time at which Mammoet will become involved in projects involving large-scale freight forwarding?
Adams: I think we would like to be involved earlier in the sales process. From an operational point of view this will allow us to deploy the assets to where they need to be on a global perspective, and it will allow our customers greater clarity on what is possible, earlier on during projects.
Gelder: When certain key decisions are made early on during projects, it can be difficult to adjust them later, and then the opportunity for greater efficiencies - either in the supply chain or in production output at the end facility - are sadly lost. So, to provide the best service to freight forwarders we need to be involved early in the process. This early involvement allows us to sit down with customers and look at the engineering that is needed for each project and provide guidance on what we can lift, what we can transport, what the sizes of the modules should be, and so on. That way, the customer will also benefit.
Kleijn: Our customer can expect from us a transparent conversation about what it is possible for us to do, so that we can help them to succeed.
Adams: This extends across the whole project scope. If we talk to freight forwarding companies early on during projects we can present the toolbox that we have available to us as a business to see what efficiencies are possible. For example, we have the MTC 15 crane, which is a modular crane that is easily assembled and disassembled. This crane could be positioned in the middle of the jungle, theoretically creating a heavy lift terminal in the middle of nowhere, perhaps meaning our customer wouldn’t need to charter heavy lift ships, saving time and money over the project cycle.
Why has Mammoet chosen to review its geographical footprint at this time?
Gelder: When we were progressing with the integration of ALE, we were hit by the coronavirus crisis at the same time, just like every other company in our industry. It was a challenging year, but we wanted to come up with the right approach. We wanted to come out of the coronavirus crisis as a stronger company.
So, we engaged with a consultant to review our geographic locations, our performance, and the economic outlook. We ran scenarios about how regions would develop, following the pandemic. Based on that process, we are making changes across our business — in Australia, in South America, in Europe. And it’s all around optimising our portfolio of locations, clusters and countries, to continue to serve the customer in the best way possible during the upcoming period of recovery and growth.
What is the strategy behind this change?
Gelder: It’s all about achieving clarity and focus. For example, we have always had a strong portfolio in nuclear. This was always a capability, a strength within Mammoet, and we want to build upon that on a global scale.
Eastern Europe is strategically a very interesting part of the world for us that we can further grow. We are developing a plan of how to grow rapidly in Germany and use that as a springboard to serve Eastern Europe. In Australia we’re building up an organisation that could be used to expand further into Southeast Asia.
Adams: We are refocusing, reshaping and ramping up where we see opportunities. The coming years will be a period of growth for Mammoet.
How is Mammoet positioned to meet the challenges of the next five years?
Gelder: Looking back, it was good that we decided to start with this strategy in 2018. So 2020, despite the pandemic, allowed us to test our strategy to see how resilient we were as a company. The positive outcome of this is that we are a resilient company and we were able to deliver a good result during the past year. With the integration of ALE, which went well and was completed ahead of schedule delivering all synergies, we came out of the crisis as a strong, resilient company with a proven business model, and at a size that allows us to deliver what our customers would like from us. We are now well-positioned to support our client base in the recovery after the coronavirus crisis. We will see a surge of new projects, and with the investments we have made over the last few years and the strategy that we adopted, we feel very confident to be able to supply the best service to our customers. Our Q1 2021 order intake was strong. Based on this, the outlook for the coming three years is very positive; and the best it has been in a number of years.