21 Jan 2021

Using local services to build world-class ships

In focus: ✔ Damen Shipyards Cape Town ✔ Project Biro ✔ Damen Technical Cooperation (DTC)

Ben Littler

How Damen is supporting the South African shipbuilding industry

As a family-owned company, Damen’s commitment to corporate social responsibility has always been instinctive. Caring for the long-term sustainability of the company is part of its DNA. A tangible overview of these strategies can be found in Damen’s Corporate Social Responsibility Reports. These annual reports document the many ways in which the company is taking steps to further cement social, economic and environmental responsibility into its daily activities. These steps can be found throughout Damen’s scope of products and services; from green innovations to responsible production methods. This article looks at one specific example of how Damen supports local entrepreneurship by fostering future talent.

The story begins in South Africa, where Damen Shipyards Cape Town has long operated with the mantra of ‘building in Africa, for Africa’. Delivering more than 40 vessels throughout the African continent, the yard’s working philosophy is very much centred on using local services and local materials to build world-class ships. Last year Damen’s Cape Town yard took this approach a step further by giving local company Africa Projects Consultants an interest-free loan to buy a CNC controlled pipe-bending machine.

APC personnel stand proudly next to the pipe-bending machine.
Photo was taken before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Speed & quality

Africa Projects Consultants is a South African company that delivers engineering and production services to the South African shipbuilding and ship repair sectors. Although the company was only established in 2018, it is in fact highly experienced; its directors have cumulated more than 60 years of experience working in the ship repair and oil & gas sectors.

The acquisition of the pipe-bending machine has had a double impact on the production output of Africa Project Consultants. The company’s managing director, Refaan Hendricks, sums the situation up best: “The new machine has dramatically improved quality and reduced the time and cost involved in bending pipes. Currently, pipe bending of thick wall pipes involves manually welding together two pipes and an elbow – a process which can take almost a full working day. This technologically-advanced machine will not only increase the speed at which the pipe bending and fabrication can be done, it will increase the quality significantly. It is amazing to see these thick-walled pipes being bent in a matter of seconds.”

The addition of pipe bending services (mild steel or stainless steel pipes 40 milimetres to 140 milimetres in diameter) has therefore enabled Africa Projects Consultants to become more competitive by delivering products with a higher quality product within quicker turnaround times.

Photo was taken before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Bringing stability

These advantages have given Africa Projects Consultants access to some major projects, the most notable of which has been the South African Navy’s Project Biro. This was set up to develop South Africa’s maritime security. Damen Shipyards Cape Town is main contractor on Project Biro, after receiving the contract from Armscor (the South African Department of Defence acquisition agency). The contract requires of Damen not only the building of three 62-metre long Inshore Patrol Vessels, but also local job creation and the development of a sustainable maritime industry in South Africa. In line with these contractual obligations, and in addition to the loan, Damen has subcontracted pipe bending, shop fabrication, and small steelworks to Africa Projects Consultants.

Looking at the long-term outlook for the company’s growth, Ivan Neethling, Africa Projects Consultants accountant, turns to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to measure the three parameters of job creation, training and economy. “We currently have 80 employees working for Africa Projects Consultants,” he says. “These include skilled, semi-skilled and administrative staff – as well as workplace apprentices. Training is very important; we have established our own in-house training programme, and our apprentices are associated with the Swift Academy here in South Africa. Considering the unemployment levels in South Africa, bringing stability like this is crucial.”

Photo was taken before the Covid-19 outbreak.

The long-term perspective

Of course, the future of Africa Projects Consultants is not limited to working with Damen on Project Biro. From its 1,700m2 facilities, the company is anticipating sustained growth and development in areas such as ship repair, shop manufacturing, mechanical and electrical repairs and installation.

Furthermore, the cooperation with Damen and resultant transfer of technology will open the way to more than just shipyards. It will allow Africa Projects Consultants to offer services to other industries such as mining, refrigeration, manufacturing, automotive, chemical, agriculture and construction. Opening doors to a long and prosperous future.

Photo was taken before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Thinking globally, acting locally

Damen has been promoting local industry participation for many years. While this includes contracting local suppliers to work at its own yards, it also involves Damen Technical Cooperation (DTC), which enables Damen vessels to be built at literally any shipyard on the planet. The quality of these vessels is assured; with more than 1,000 projects undertaken, DTC’s track record is solid.

Nurturing local industry also has socio-economic implications as Damen’s customised solutions allow long term job creation, local content, and transfer of technology. Whether Damen brings in more local suppliers to its own yards or builds with DTC, the impact on the local supply chain is enormous. This results in the automatic retention of strategic capabilities that are often necessary in governmental projects, and retention of local skills for prolonged lifecycle support and logistics purposes. Furthermore, seeing the extent to which local businesses develop and communities thrive, the value of Damen’s approach cannot be overestimated.