Dutch Steel: Manufacturer Geared Up for Offshore Wind
“You can say we are very, very good at constructing pipes”, states Jan Bruggenthijs, CEO of steel manufacturer Sif Group based in the Netherlands. The company manufactures foundations for the offshore wind and oil and gas industries.
“Offshore wind turbines are evolving, increasing in size and weight. Thankfully, we are up to the task of producing these enormous units. Within oil and gas, you often find that pipes are required in smaller diameters, either extremely straight or very dense. To conclude, we are well equipped to make pipes to very precise specifics. On time and within budget.”
The company hails from Sittard in the province of Limburg in the Netherlands where in 1948 Jan Jacob Schmeitz started the company Silemetaal that was active in producing brackets to secure rain pipes. In 1952, the company started a cooperation with Sondagh Instrumenten en Fijnmechanisch NS (or Sif for short) and later merged in 1953 into the Sif company known today. Sif has extensive experience in cylinder steel constructions as well as heavy machinery for the (petro) chemical industry. In 2000, the management of Sif conducted an analysis of the market and based on this decided to direct the focus on two industries: offshore oil and gas and offshore wind. A very important decision that has proved fruitful over the past 17 years.
Bruggenthijs: “I think our solid reputation within the industry means just as much as the quality we deliver in products. Our customers know that when we promise something, we will deliver. I think that is very important. We are partners. For instance, if we decide that somewhere in a design of a steel construction less steel is required, we will do so. A cost saving for our clients and for us. We want to operate and communicate in a manner that is transparent; this means we remain a dependable supplier to the industry.”
Sif group currently employs 230 and 390 hired-in workers. “When I started in 2014 we employed 180 people and 150 hired-in workers, so you can say we have grown quite a lot in the past three years. Our business is mainly focused on offshore wind, around 90 per cent; the other 10 per cent is dedicated to offshore oil and gas, an industry we feel it is imperative that we stay active in. To meet the current demands of both industries we have decided to expand our production facilities to the Maasvlakte II in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.”
“The new location in Rotterdam is very close to sea and easily accessible for large installation vessels. We took on this challenge with the Port of Rotterdam a cooperation I feel very strongly about. The port of Rotterdam distinguish themselves from other ports in the Netherlands as they have a clear vision on where they see themselves, but also in regard to offshore wind. I also see the same work-mentality; they do not offer anything that cannot be achieved. The location on the Maasvlakte II offers us a heavy quayside that is 400 metres long and has a water-depth of 16, 5 metres where vessels can reach the sea without any obstruction,” Jan Bruggenthijs says.
The location has yet to be formally opened, this will take place in the third quarter of 2017, and the production process is in full swing already. In December 2016 the first vessel docked.
“Roermond will always remain our base”, stresses Bruggenthijs. “It is our headquarters in Limburg and the soul of the company, though the Rotterdam location naturally adds to this. We are currently training our people to work in Rotterdam and will soon evaluate how we can reshape the Roermond location for future production.”
“We can already produce monopiles for ten to twelve MW foundations, perhaps even larger. As such, we are future proof and can offer this to the industry as we have already made the necessary investments. As soon as ten to twelve MW turbines become a reality, we will be prepared. The industry can count on us to be able to handle any upscale”, comments Bruggenthijs.
Looking toward developments within offshore wind foundations Bruggenthijs sees a clear preference for monopiles, stating: “This type of foundation is cheaper, in regards to installation as well as maintenance. Standardising the transition piece is difficult as offshore wind is still a relatively young industry and innovations follow in quick succession to one another. I think a great advantage is to be found in standardizing design and guidelines to allow the industry to achieve cost reduction. Naturally, the first step will be to invest in these new ideas to be able to generate such a design. At the same time, now is a difficult time to define a standard for design within offshore wind due to the upscale that is happening. Upscaling unfortunately creates a disadvantage to innovative design. The transition piece is where I think some elements can be standardised, such as the boat landing – although in my opinion the boat lading can be left out all together as so many vessel nowadays have a walk-to-work principle, which makes a boat lading obsolete.”
“I might be stepping on some toes here, but I think jackets won’t have a long life within offshore wind”, states Bruggenthijs when asked about the future developments of offshore wind foundations mainly in regards to floating foundations.
“Yes, current high costs make floating a less desirable option right now, but we as an industry have to take on this challenge. I think in the future jacket foundations will make way to cheaper floating constructions. Near shore, monopiles will remain a favourite and for now these suffice even in slightly deeper waters so there is not much call yet for floaters. Opportunities and possibilities for floating foundations will need to be researched and we will have to remain critical in the design, fabrication process and the assembly of floating structures. I do think when the time comes our location in Rotterdam will be much attuned to dealing with floaters. They can be assembled on the quay and then be brought directly to sea, installed and off they go. Sounds simple and perhaps it will be in in the future, but right now, there is no call for this. Though I do think floaters will be a very interesting venture.”
Sif Group is currently working on Galloper and Rampion, both in the English segment of the North Sea. Soon Rentel will be added to this list, off the coast of Belgium. “Yes there will be more projects”, smiles Bruggenthijs. “But I cannot discuss them just yet.”
Much is happening in the Netherlands in regards to employment within offshore wind and oil and gas. Bruggenthijs is worried about the current legislation and policy of the Dutch government. He says: “We thought we would be able to hire many people with an oil and gas background when the industry hit the downturn. In fact, this could not have been further from the truth. In the Netherlands, unemployed received high welfare supplements and these people do not feel the need to look for new jobs right away. This worries me, as these people are not being motivated to get back to work. Many people who worked within oil and gas are used to a very high salary and yes, within offshore wind this might be slightly different. I am not saying Sif Group does not pay well, not at all. I have just heard many people state they are not willing to get back to work, especially if this means working for a lower salary.
“Even if the Dutch government is willing to supplement to reach the previous salary. To be honest I cannot imagine not working and I think this policy regarding the welfare supplement sends the wrong message. We forget that when these people need to get back to work in two or three years’ time they will have a gap in their experience that is not appealing to prospective employers. For Sif Group this means we have to find our technical personnel abroad. I would rather not, but I do not have much choice. Stimulating people to get right back to work seems like a better policy to me. As an employer, we have a good reputation in the Netherlands. I often hear people say that is you work for Sif, you are doing quite well. Naturally, I enjoy hearing this. We do take good care of our people.”
“What does the future look like?” ponders Bruggenthijs. “I think in five years’ time we will still have locations in Rotterdam and Roermond. Possibly, we will be working more towards upscaling and who knows; maybe an international operation could be on the cards.”
Note: After speaking to Jan Bruggenthijs, the Dutch Financial Times published an article on companies who have made the switch to offshore wind as an alternative to the oil market and of the many prominent companies Sif was named as one of the companies who had done best within the offshore wind and had shown strong results in the third quarter of 2016.
This article first appeared in the February 2017 edition of the Offshore WIND Magazine.
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