European Yard Initiative – Will it Work?

Friday, October 08, 2004
The European Intership initiative to breathe new life into Europe’s flagging ship construction industry could provide a pointer for repair yards in the region, some believe. The seven yards in five countries have secured €19m in EU funding and will stump up the same amount between them. They aim to win 95% of the newbuilding market for cruise vessels and 60% of contracts for ferries and ro/ro passenger vessels by the end of the project, whilst cutting building costs by 25-30% and slashing ship life-cycle costs by 30-40%.

Meyer Werft’s Thomas Witolla says it has taken a lot of planning amongst the seven member yards even to reach this stage, with yards working closely on the initiative for some years before the four-year EU- funded project was launched in November 2003. The Intership grouping consists of Chantiers de l’Atlantique, Estaleiros Navais de Viano do Castello, Fincantieri, Flensburger Schiffbau, Izar Construcciones Navales, Kvaerner Masa and Meyer Werft. Through a series of working groups co-operating closely with some 60 technology suppliers from 13 EU countries, 19 projects have been designed to assess the potential for improving efficiency in areas such as early ship design, knowledge and quality management, hull production and modularisation, pre-fitting and out-fitting, logistics and e-procurement.

One key area that will come under study is an assessment of the means by which ship construction periods can be reduced. In today’s buoyant market, this is particularly relevant as owners look to lesser-known newbuilding yards in Eastern Europe, for example, for prompt deliveries.

Some 13 of the Intership projects will commence in the first two years of the four-year initiative, with the remaining six undertaken later, being largely dependent on the outcome of those 13. Six research clusters will involve 250 individual researchers from the seven partners which will exchange and exploit the results. Whilst Intership will have common ownership of the project results, the yards are expected to make available their findings to other shipbuilders in the EU. This is likely to take place in the future through a series of workshops and seminars, perhaps on a twice-yearly basis.

Scope for the introduction of new procedures in ship repair is constrained, to some extent, by the fact that it remains a largely “spot” business, with owners calling the shots on complicated repair specifications, required yesterday, and thus providing limited opportunity for repair yards to plan their forward books effectively. However, this could change, certainly in some sectors of shipping, as owners plan further in advance and require more sophisticated services from their repairers.

Some yards are already looking at more modern project management procedures. Block bookings are a relatively simple case in point. Maintenance partnerships between repair yards and owners are another area believed to offer potential. And, of course, as more super post-panamax container vessels join the fleet, fewer repair yards will be capable of taking on such work and will have to make available advance repair teams, whilst offering precise dates and times and a comprehensive after-sales service.

But there is a range of other challenges faced by European repair yards. Waste management, for example, is of increasing concern, with suppliers supposedly responsible for the removal and, in some cases, recycling of waste packaging. How often this happens in practice is dubious, say industry insiders. Then there are questions such as the environmental impact of blasting and painting. Experts say there could be significant scope for the sharing of analytical work in such areas, but for the moment, no means of doing so.

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