With work nearing completion on Rolls-Royce’s £44M (US$58.4M) expansion of its thruster facilities at Rauma in Finland, Offshore Support Journal spoke to Rolls-Royce customer director for propulsion and engines Gary Nutter and site manager Olli Rantanen about what the investment has brought to the site and the company’s thruster business in the offshore sector.
One of the main aims of the project, known as the Rauma Transformation, was to consolidate all Rolls-Royce operations at Rauma onto one site, said Mr Nutter. The project includes refurbishment of the existing facilities, a newbuild area for thruster assembly and testing of parts, with component manufacturing completely outsourced, said Mr Rantanen. "The scope [of the project] is mainly the building infrastructure and capital investment for equipment. That will be finalised by the end of this year," he said, adding that "When it is consolidated to one site, production is streamlined so we know we’ll get shorter lead times and better productivity."
Azimuth thrusters have been built at Rauma since 1965, with the first model made partly from tractor parts. This is a far cry from the current output off the plant’s three assembly lines. Mr Nutter outlined each line’s production.
“The 40-tonne line is our US thrusters. They go on workboats and tugs and are aimed at high bollard pull activities,” he said, citing examples of contracts with Damen and Sanmar as use cases.
The 80-tonne line will manufacture UUC thrusters, for use on larger vessels such as drill rigs, semi-submersibles and thruster-powered floating production, storage and offloading (FPSOs) units, he added. Allseas’ Pioneering Spirit, the world’s largest construction vessel, which is used for decommissioning oil platforms, is powered by 12 of these. Nutter noted that UUC thrusters are used “in some of the harshest environments in the North Sea.”
The third assembly line is for large, retractable thrusters, used in harsh ice environments such as the arctic. This line will have a height of 35 m and a hook height of 30 m to allow for testing of the largest such thrusters, said Mr Nutter.
Alongside Rauma, there are two other main Rolls-Royce sites in the Nordics. The company’s R&D department, located in Ulsteinvik, Norway, has a focus on innovations for new product development, while Kristinehamn in Sweden is focused on propeller products and hydrodynamic research.
In January this year Rolls-Royce announced it was considering options for the marine division as part of a strategic review. Mr Nutter said that for the thruster business it has largely been business as usual, with the review taking place in the background. “The customers, the products, the people we have within our business – very much nothing has changed,” he said.
Diversifying its focus
Mr Nutter noted the decline in the offshore sector, due to low oil prices, had been mirrored in Rolls-Royce’s thruster business. Looking specifically at Rauma, he noted that while its UUC thrusters are for larger vessels, it also produces smaller UF thrusters, so the company has tried to secure more business on the tug and workboat side of the market that mounts these.
Rolls-Royce Marine receives about 70% of its business from the offshore sector, Mr Nutter said. “The newbuild side has dropped off but the services side – which is roughly half of our business – has remained relatively strong,” he said. Rolls-Royce has followed the example of shipyards by diversifying away from offshore and towards the “merchant” side of the market, while maintaining its offshore customers. This has involved looking at the fishing vessel, ferries and expedition cruise ship sectors.
In terms of a recovery, Mr Nutter said “there are certainly more conversations going on now than in the past.” The company recently signed a contract with Sembcorp for an FPSO to support operations in the Johan Castberg field offshore in Norway: “For us that was significant because that was the first FPSO we think has been contracted with thrusters since 2012,” said Mr Nutter. He also said the company is seeking involvement with a semisubmersible rig to be built for Awilco Drilling by Keppel. However, he noted “it’s early shoots compared to what we saw in better times, when the oil price was higher and people were investing more.”
Looking forward, Mr Nutter emphasised optimisation. “We’ve got a whole range of what I would call traditional products like control systems, thrusters, engines, deck machinery equipment – how do we integrate these products with other, more intelligent offerings, integrating, optimising, making them as efficient as they can be?”
Optimisation and efficiency are key requirements from customers. “Prices are becoming key as the market starts coming back overall and that’s an area we’ve been focusing hard on,” said Mr Nutter. He cited examples such as equipment health monitoring, allowing the company to advise customers on how to use equipment efficiently and improve performance, intelligent asset management, and hybrid systems as further key technological areas.
Signs of life
Brunvoll’s chief executive Odd Tore Finnøy spoke to Offshore Support Journal about the acquisition of Scana Propulsion in March 2017 and what this has meant for the company.
“Both Brunvoll and Scana Propulsion were and still are affected by the reduction of the oil price and the missing oil and gas market for newbuilds,” Mr Finnøy said. However, Brunvoll’s specialisation in thrusters for manoeuvring and positioning complements Scana’s focus on forward propulsion. This means Brunvoll can meet customer requirements for a “complete package” of propulsion, manoeuvring and positioning systems from one supplier, in one contract. This has had beneficial results for the company, which has won several contracts on this basis, he said.
While yet to feel any significant ripples from rising oil prices in terms of newbuild contracts, Brunvoll is already seeing improvements in the aftersales service market. Oil and gas vessels are coming out of layup and getting new charters or being sold to new owners, meaning there is demand for re-certification and maintenance before they re-enter service.
Mr Finnøy sees the market in general as improving and noted several sectors, such as passenger vessels, fishing and special cargoes, that have experienced several good years. The company hopes to enter a new period of growth when the oil and gas market starts to improve, “first in the aftersales area, but also hopefully in newbuilds,” said Mr Finnøy.
Elsewhere, Kawasaki Heavy Industries has received the first order for its newly developed E-series Rexpeller azimuth thruster. While these thrusters have been ordered for tugboats, the Japanese company also notes the design is suitable for use on supply boats, drillships and cable layers. Four units were ordered in February by China Communications Import & Export Corporation for delivery to Tianjin Lingang Tug Co., Ltd, for use on tugs at the Port of Tianjin.
And in another sign that the sector is anticipating growth, Schottel’s Singapore subsidiary, Schottel Far East, has relocated to new facilities in southwestern Singapore. Incorporating a workshop with a 90-tonne lifting capacity, two 40-tonne cranes that can lift loads up to 9 m in height, and a crane with a lifting capacity of six tonnes, the facilities will be capable of servicing rudder propeller thrusters of up to 3,500 kW.