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game changer

Innovator in a conservative industry

Engineer Wouter van Dalen (31) is an atypical innovation manager—no well wrought one-liners suggesting intensive media training, no expensive suit showing that his tasks are PR-related. Wouter is a young professional who knows what he is talking about. Self-confident and passionate, he shares his views with Erwin Boutsma of Technisch Weekblad.

In 2013, Wouter founded the R&D department at Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL), a company that specializes in hoisting tall offshore installations. TMC opened this opportunity for him. And it is no simple task if you consider the conservativeness of this sector.

As an innovator in a conservative industry, he says diplomatically: “This conservatism is only partly true. In offshore, we see only few examples of breakthrough innovation. In practice, however, most of our projects are innovative because no assignment resembles another. An increasing number of our projects take us out of our comfort zone of steel and power. They drive us continuously to develop ourselves.”

Currently, SHL operates both the 30-year-old Stanislav Yudin, and the three-year old Oleg Strashnov. Both ships are monohulls, and each sport enormous cranes that are unique in the world for their combination of speed and hoisting capacity. The Yudin hoists loads of up to 2,500 tons while the newer Strashnov doubles this weight. The Strashnov is also equipped with a technology that can either broaden the ship for more stability when carrying out heavier hoisting operations, or narrow it in order to move faster.

“Some semi-submersibles (half-sinkable crane ships) hoist a heavier load, but they are more expensive and travel a lot slower,” says Wouter. “The more frequently used jack-ups (crane platforms with extendable legs that stand on the ocean floor) have a considerably smaller hoisting capacity. We have our speed and, on top of that, a hoisting capacity that will do for nearly all assignments.”

It goes without saying that two ships facilitate important innovations. One is in the area of the production of wind energy in the North Sea, which is in the company's back yard. Wind turbines are now usually installed by jack-ups. They have a limited hoisting capacity (the biggest can carry up to 1,600 tons) and therefore, it is done in steps.

Installation and the tearing down of wind turbines highly contribute to the production costs of wind energy. The faster this can be done, the cheaper wind energy is for the end user. Wouter explains: “Our cranes are taller and, therefore, more expensive than jack-ups, but they are faster too". The Strashnov can hoist objects that measure up to 130 meters. This is about the axis height of today’s tallest wind turbine. Our challenge is to install turbines in one go and reduce production costs.

Wouter's brand new R&D department at SHL also focuses on safety. “It is surprising how many technical aspects are touched by safety," he says. “For instance, synthetic hoisting cables. We are testing high-tech synthetic fibers like twaron, dyneema and spectra. These are much lighter than steel and weight-neutral in water, so they won’t sink immediately. With producing companies, we discuss a further reduction of the weight. We are way ahead of others in this field.”

"Even though innovation plays an increasingly important role," Wouter concludes, "experience is SHL’s competitive advantage. As a company, we have been around for almost 25 years. We are considered as a senior in this industry.

The offshore industry is huge and ponderous. It is steel, mechanics and physical power. However, it is also an unbelievably interesting and dynamic sector. In the maritime sector, the Dutch are in the world's top tier. It is rewarding to be an innovator in a conservative industry".

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