Fabrication yards: Heerema Fabrication Group

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Dutch engineering and fabrication company Heerema Fabrication Group (HFG) was already a well known player in the oil & gas industry, when around five years ago, the offshore wind industry was just really setting off. Then HFG was asked whether they could build some small platforms for this new industry. With the company’s vast experience it would in fact not be a challenge practically, but, as Bert uan Dijk, Vice President BD & Sales Offshore Renewables, told Offshore WIND, they soon found out that the industry itself had many differences from the oil & gas industry.

Where the oil & gas industry has developed over time into a well structured industry, both financially and organisatorial, the offshore wind industry was very much still in a R&D type of environment where many ideas were brought up but where not many of them were turned in to actions. The type of clients were different, with different expectations, all sorts of contra conditions and different financial structures. With hardly any experience, project owners found out the hard way that there were many unexpected challenges, in regulations and requirements but also in safety aspects.

With these differences noted, two years ago the company decided to split their commercial activities to address the traditional oil & gas and renewables market separately. And therefore a dedicated offshore renewables division was created. At the moment the company has 6 offshore wind platforms, either completed or under construction.

With the small platforms included the company is already the largest player when it comes to the number of builds for the offshore wind industry.

Heerema has production facilities in 3 locations, one in the UK, Hartlepool, and 2 in the Netherlands, Vlissingen and Zwijndrecht with a total production capacity of 30,000t. In March 2008 the Vlissingen facility started fabrication of the first HVDC project, the 400MW BorWin alpha HVDC platform for TenneT, with delivery in 2009. A couple of months later fabrication started on the first substation, at the Hartlepool facility, for Greater Gabbard, which was at the same time the first substation in UK waters, followed by the platform for Sheringham Shoal.

It is their facility in Zwijndrecht that is especially suited for the production of large platforms. Here Heerema has built the DolWin alpha topsides and soon HelWin beta will follow. The platform names refer to grid connection clusters of wind farms in the German part of the North Sea. When Offshore WIND visited the yard in September the 900MW DolWin alpha, an impressive 64 x 42 x 42m 9,500t steel HVDC topside just completed construction. On peak days around 1,000 men were working on this construction. The jacket foundation and bridge were being constructed at their yard in Vlissingen.

While Heerema was asked to get involved with the DolWin alpha project at a slightly later stage, HelWin beta, the latest offshore wind project awarded to the company, is being fully designed and managed by them. The company will be responsible for the entire EPCI activities for the 10,400t HelWin beta platform, the contract for which, was awarded by Siemens Energy in June this year. The project is on schedule and is expected to be finished in the summer of 2014.

How does Heerema see the future for them and their market?

In the next 15 years around 200 platforms (for both HVDC and HVAC) will be needed. Mr van Dijk recognises a couple of critical issues, whether there is enough engineering and production capacity to handle these at the moment. Also, with the stations becoming bigger and bigger (1,200-1,500MW), and given the available capacity of installation vessels in the market, it will be no longer feasible to install them as one module. Float overs might become an alternative solution for solving this problem.

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Another option is to produce in 2 or even more modules but he is not convinced that the industry is very eager yet, even though there should not be doubts on the feasibility of this. According to Mr van Dijk it would also do no harm for the industry to have a new look at how contract structures are set up. While grid operators currently award the overall contract to high voltage equipment suppliers, offshore wind operators should capitalise on the experience of the individual contractors involved in the total project.

As far as it concerns their own plans for the future, a continuous HVDC production is the ambition. At the moment HFG could produce 2 large platforms in 3 years but when standardisation is reached it could well be 1 a year. The company has plans in the UK to extend their facility in Hartlepool with a production hall that will be fully dedicated to the production of state of the art foundations.

Sabine Lankhorst