Equipped to make offshore wind “an all-year-round operation”

Erik Hessels, Director SMST

In the fast-moving offshore industry, high quality and innovative equipment is constantly in demand so that personnel safety is increased, costs are reduced and efficiencies can be maximised.

Manufacturing companies working in the offshore wind industry face a significant challenge admits Erik Hessels, Director of SMST, a Netherlands-based firm which designs and builds equipment for the sector. “The demand for innovation excellence at low-cost is extremely high,” he says. “So it’s crucial to create very high quality products that have very high safety standards while keeping cost prices — and operational costs — at affordable levels.”

SMST started life as a supplier to the offshore oil and gas industry. As one of the first suppliers adopting Active Heave Compensation in their offshore cranes by real time censoring of vessel movements, SMST mutualized this technology into a product range for the offshore wind industry, developing and manufacturing 3D compensated cranes, gangways and specific modular equipment.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the industry notes Hessels, because the global growth of offshore wind is expanding everyone’s horizons. “Most of the work we do is focussed on the North Sea and Baltic Sea area,” he says. “But as Taiwan, Japan and the US begin to develop their industries, more opportunities are becoming available.”

Keeping design and service

While many of the sector’s design and manufacturing firms farm out different parts of their operations, SMST does everything in-house. “That includes initial development, design, manufacture and testing of new products, plus training and long-term maintenance and service,” says Hessels. “We like to keep the whole process within our control because our clients like dealing with only one party. One point of contact – also important for service and aftersales – means high reaction time. It also means that, with our engineering knowledge, we can quickly create new products and then successfully implement them in the marketplace.”

For example, the company’s Access and Cargo Tower is a state-of-the-art solution featuring an elevator, motion compensated gangway and 3D crane that transfers personnel and cargo from service vessels to offshore wind turbines quickly, efficiently and safely. The integrated design of the tower and crane — developed in consultation with vessel owners and designers — has resulted in low power consumption, low overall costs and highest workability in severe sea-states.

The company also makes a range of gangways (SMST’s Telescopic Access Bridges, TAB) for the transfer of personnel to and from offshore structures. Its modular gangway M-series (TAB-M) can be mobilized quickly, has a small footprint, is easily to operate by the vessel crew and doesn’t need large generators. The modularity of the M-series can be found in the flexibility of setting up a system for working on various heights, by means of stacking modules with integrated staircases and telescoping pedestals. With a fleet of rental gangways, SMST is flexible in worldwide operations on short- and long-term basis.

Working in difficult weather conditions

This type of motion compensation equipment has had a positive impact on the industry’s efficiency levels. “Previously, technicians would have to be taken out to wind turbines in smaller vessels,” says Hessels. “They would climb the turbine, hauling up bags and equipment with them.

Cargo and supply ships would be available to offer support — but these could only work in light weather conditions. However, 3D motion compensated cranes and gangways make it easy for personnel to transfer to offshore platforms — plus they eliminate vessel motions so can be used when weather conditions are difficult, resulting in less downtime. In the past, much offshore work was seasonal. Now it can be an 24/7 and all-year-round operation.”

The offshore wind equipment market is hugely competitive and rapidly changing. “Because it’s a fairly new industry, new developments are happening all the time,” says Hessels. “So in the future expect to see a move to systems that feature more automation, with the aim of increasing safety, reducing costs and making the whole offshore process even more efficient.” New developments are discussed with notified bodies and with classification bureaus, allowing them to follow-up with regulations and certifications. “SMST is in a constant developing mode and with our approach we intent to tackle the future on personnel transfer and cargo related topics.”