21 Dec 2020

Fit for the future

In focus: ✔ Marc van Heyningen ✔ Defence projects ✔ Maritime digitalisation ✔ Damen Technical Cooperation (DTC) ✔ Damen Services Brisbane

Ben Littler

Jan-Wim Dekker is the longest-serving member of the Damen Group’s Executive Board (EB) after Arnout Damen. He has been part of the Board of Directors since November 2014.

Marc van Heyningen still has the fewest flying hours on the EB of Damen Shipyards Group. As of April 1st, 2020, he holds the position of chief operations officer (COO). A great opportunity to bring the ‘tried-and-tested’ and the ‘new kid on the block’ together for an interview about Damen in uncertain times.

Damen shipbuilding: an atmosphere of unbridled enthusiasm

“We have paid our tuition fees.” chief commercial officer (CCO) Jan-Wim Dekker makes no bones about it. After a slight loss in 2018, the Damen Shipyards Group figures for 2019 turned dark red. “We were a very successful company; we grew tremendously. It created an atmosphere of unbridled enthusiasm: ‘we can do that’. A real entrepreneurial spirit, but without enough focus on the risks. Fortunately, we realised this in time, but not without sustaining a number of significant dents and scratches.”

In 2019, the Damen Group was revitalised and divided into more manageable divisions. Responsibilities were assigned more clearly and additional control mechanisms were created, such as a Project Risk Board that supports the EB in identifying project-related risks during the bid process of new potential projects.

This also supports managing those risks during the term of the projects. The balance sheet was adjusted and provisions were taken. All with the aim of being able to draw a big line under the past by the close of financial year 2019 and to steam ahead into the future with full speed. Jan-Wim: “That was successful in itself, but then the coronavirus presented itself, which of course hasn’t made it any easier.”

Jan-Wim Dekker

Catching up: digitalisation in shipping

“The positive thing about the situation in recent months is that our digital collaboration and maritime digitalisation solutions have accelerated enormously,” continues Jan-Wim. “But that of course does not outweigh the drop in demand.

You can see that the business community is very restrained, this impacts especially our repair yards and the Workboats Division. New investments are being postponed. We will undoubtedly catch up later, but now we miss the turnover. We also suffer from this in yacht building, but less so. However, the order book from governments, such as for defence projects, continues to do well.”

Marc van Heyningen picks up by praising Damen’s diversification strategy. “Being active in multiple maritime markets has served Damen Shipyards very well.

As a result, the group’s order portfolio is more balanced. If you look past the glitches that have happened in the past, especially on a number of the larger offshore projects, you have a healthy company with a similarly healthy strategy and order book at its core.”

Marc can therefore fully agree with the sharpened course that was started in 2019. “We are returning to our core strength of focusing on building standardised ships in series combined with a strong sales and service organisation. We will be more selective with one-off projects with improved risk/reward balance.

The overall aim is to become the most sustainable and digital shipbuilder in the world. To achieve this, the focus is ‘back to the core’, on the aspects that have made Damen Shipyards Group great and that are essential to make shipping greener and connected.”

Marc van Heyningen

Damen engineering for the future

To further support that course, Damen is on the eve of a number of major investments. For example, a completely new 3D CAD-PDM system is being rolled out to better manage and access documents such as working drawings, designs and test results. Internally, but also for customers. In addition, the current Enterprise Resource Planning platform is also being replaced by SAP.

“This strengthens our process side, which leads to even better insight into all our projects, among other things,” explains Marc enthusiastically. When asked whether it is better to stop now instead of investing, the two directors immediately deny this.

Jan-Wim: “Certainly not. It is important to stay fit for the future. The importance of the maritime industry will increase in the 21st century. The world population continues to increase; it is getting busier on the land. Sea levels are also rising. It is logical that more and more people are turning to water for transport.

“In addition, more and more applications are being found for the water and the seabed. From energy generation via floating solar panels and tidal current to aquaculture and seabed mining. The future for the maritime sector, shipbuilding and maritime services is bright in this century and Damen Shipyards is excellently positioned to serve those markets.”

Going beyond traditional boundaries: ship-as-a-service

Marc: “Damen is also very well positioned within that spectrum. Thanks to our focus on maritime digitalisation and sustainability, for example through cradle-to-cradle construction, we are able to provide more and more services around a ship. Servitisation, which leads to operational lease, where you as a user only have tosupply the crew and fuel. We will arrange all the rest. Complete customer care. Well, you may still have to clean the ship, but we are really moving towards ship-as-a-service concepts.”

Damen’s footprint is also of decisive importance, Jan-Wim adds. “We are the only shipbuilder to have yards worldwide. In addition, through Damen Technical Cooperation (DTC), we are also particularly adept at building or assembling ships designed by us at third party yards; including modular packages.

Finally, we have an installed base of more than 6,500 ships, supported by more than twenty Service Hubs on all continents. From Nassau in the Bahamas to St. Petersburg and from Brisbane ‘down under’ to Rio de Janeiro and Djibouti. In short, let the future come. We are more than ready for it.”

Special start: coming onboard during a pandemic

“I came on board in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown in the Netherlands,” says Marc van Heyningen about his start as COO. “That was quite difficult. We couldn’t travel and face to face meetings were restricted. Nevertheless, we found ways to make the introduction successful. Online a lot, but also making a visit and meeting where possible. Everything within the social distancing guidelines of course.

“The click with the company and the people of Damen was there almost immediately. Everyone is accessible, the culture informal and down to earth. That really appeals to me. This immediately became crystal clear when I first met with Arnout at his home and we sat at the kitchen table discussing all current company issues. A great start!”

Damen Group: Many companies, one Damen

“Despite the economic consequences of coronavirus, you mostly remember the personal impact,” reflects Jan-Wim Dekker. “It is very sad that a colleague in Romania passed away as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and there are also those who have been seriously ill.

Also, the repatriation of more than 200 employees to their home country was a challenge — because it meant taking people off projects that were nearly finished. But at Damen, health and safety are paramount. After all, it is all about the teamwork. People make the difference. That also makes it very difficult to implement restructuring programmes, as happened in 2020. It’s necessary, but still tough for the entire organisation. After all, we are One Damen.”