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The Power of Innovation

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By Wendy Laursen 2016-07-19 20:13:40

(Article originally published in May/June 2016 edition.)

At Blohm+Voss it’s all about satisfying the customer through innovative and customized solutions. It’s a formula that’s worked for 140 years.

By Wendy Laursen

Situated in the heart of Hamburg, in easy reach of the North Sea, Baltic and North Atlantic, Blohm+Voss is the perfect place to build and repair mega yachts, cruise vessels, navy surface vessels and high-end merchant ships. “Our location right in the center of Hamburg is unique and ideal for our customers from a logistical perspective,” says CEO Fred van Beers. “We are also blessed with a strong and well-established partner base close to the city. This is often underestimated, but a shipyard like ours can only work with a strong supplier base.”

Van Beers took the reins in 2015 and shortly thereafter set a new path for the company that nonetheless followed in the tradition of 140 years of change and adaption to current market trends. Last year the engineering team moved from Kiel to Hamburg where shipyard, sales and project management teams are based, enabling the company to support its customers from a single location. Now, with everything under one roof, van Beers has set the stage for sustainable, long-term and profitable growth.

“The goal is to deliver true lifecycle support solutions for our customers,” van Beers explains.

From Superyachts to Cruise Ships

The Hamburg site covers over 421,000 square meters and features over two kilometers of docks and numerous manufacturing works. The company has built over 1,000 vessels there including square riggers, cargo ships, cruise ships and warships.

However, it is the unique and iconic superyachts that have really brought the brand to prominence in recent years. Much of the new investment and development work van Beers is overseeing is focused on the superyacht sector, and the creation of a dedicated superyacht division brings all of the company’s naval architecture, ship theory, project management and engineering expertise together in one location. The aim is to offer customers a true “one-stop-shop” center of excellence for the whole lifecycle of their yacht.

A new Blohm+Voss 80-meter yacht design has generated huge interest in the market and is being made available within 30 months of contract signing. “The BV80 is a great mega yacht concept and a new cornerstone in our yacht-building history,” says van Beers. “We have done extensive market research to find out what our customers are looking for. We then took the results as input for our BV80, which we have designed together with Eidsgaard. The result allows for short lead-times, best Blohm+Voss quality standards, a high level of interior design flexibility and an absolutely competitive price. BV80 represents our future thinking, and we strongly believe in it. We have spent the last 12 months completing the full engineering package and held the keel-laying ceremony last December. We are now building the first double-bottom sections.”

Blohm+Voss built the world’s first mega yacht, Savarona, and also the Eclipse, the second biggest mega yacht sailing today. The company was founded by the shipbuilding pioneers Hermann Blohm, an engineer, and Ernst Voss, a steel expert, in 1877. In 1900 a brilliant business idea led to the creation of the first purpose-built cruise ship in the world, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise, which catered to an exclusive clientèle and ushered in a whole new age of tourism.

For Blohm+Voss it was the successful start of a compelling area of the business. Today, the international cruise ship industry, which hosts over 22 million passengers annually, has become a highly dynamic and specialized field, and Blohm+Voss is a firm fixture.

A History of Innovation

Getting to this point has been an adventure. Voss passed away in 1920 and Blohm in 1930, and over the next few decades Rudolf and Walther Blohm, the two sons of Hermann Blohm, led the yard to become very productive, building different types of commercial ships as well as cruise vessels. Soon the container ship revolution began dominating the cargo trades, and Blohm+Voss built the largest container vessel of its day. In 1972, the Hamburg Express, a 3,000-TEU, steam turbine-driven, 48,064-dwt container ship, was delivered to German shipping company Hapag Lloyd.

During the 1990s the shipbuilding industry worldwide was dealing with low order books, and Blohm+Voss struggled as well. But the yard began focusing on cruise ship repairs. Its vessel-conversion facility boomed, and the yard built oil rigs, pipe layers and crane ships for the offshore sector. In the mid-1990s the company restructured into newbuildings, repairs and conversion, and engineering services. Meanwhile, under the ownership of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, it continued building naval vessels.

Blohm+Voss is now owned by Star Capital Partners, which took over from ThyssenKrupp at the end of 2011. “They believe in our plans and support us,” notes van Beers. “When you look at the companies Star Capital has invested in, you will notice that sustainable growth, business success and stability have been the core of their development. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

The shipyard is renowned as a leader in innovative marine technologies and is often said to have revolutionized the construction of naval vessels with the development of the 1970s’ MEKO® design concept. It has been building surface vessels for the German navy for decades and is currently building four F125 frigates in cooperation with ThyssenKrupp, which will be the largest in the fleet.

The first, the Baden-Württemberg, underwent a highly successful sea trial earlier this year. The fourth and final vessel will be delivered in the winter of 2019/2020. The company is now tendering for the MKS 180 project, a series of four new frigates for the German navy with an option for two more, in partnership with Damen Schelde Naval Shipyards (DSNS) in Holland.

The driving force behind the yard’s successes are its centers of competence where, together with a global network of developers, scientists and designers, specialists are constantly rethinking and reinventing the concept of ships and shipbuilding. The visions become reality in the form of completely new yacht concepts, for example, or innovative technical solutions in conversion and repair. “If it doesn’t exist, we will invent it” is a corporate theme that guarantees that great ideas are quickly transformed into watertight solutions.

Home Port

There is no type of ship that Blohm+Voss has not built or repaired. The reason for this is simple: the Port of Hamburg. With over 9,000 commercial vessels entering Hamburg every year, the yard’s experience is not a miracle, just a matter of tradition.

The Port of Hamburg runs like clockwork, and the yard has adapted to it perfectly, building a solid international reputation fulfilling complex projects for the cruise industry. Last year it had 10 cruise ships in its docks for refits and repairs. At the end of May, the Queen Mary 2 arrived at the yard for the sixth time. “We know her well,” says van Beers. “She will leave the dock on June 17 at 2:30 p.m. Why am I mentioning the exact time? Simply because timing for such a massive conversion is of utmost importance.”

Van Beers adds that “We are executing the most complex master refit in her lifetime in only 21 days. Among other things, like overhauling all four propulsion units and organizing the logistical support for the complete interior upgrade, this refit includes the nearly complete renewal of the top deck, including the installation of 50 new cabin suites. We have been planning and preparing this complex project for over a year and in very close cooperation with Cunard. It is exactly the kind of project we are good at and will focus on going forward.”

At home in Hamburg, the company has long supported the city it depends on. In January it became an official environmental partner of the city, demonstrating its commitment in the areas of sustainability and conservation of natural resources. To reduce power consumption, the company is switching to energy-efficient LED lighting across the entire yard, most notably in the production halls and workshops. In addition, Blohm+Voss is working on optimizing provisional ship lighting as well as the control technology of its electrically-operated cranes.

The people of Hamburg feature strongly in van Beers’ prospects for the future. Germany held a “Girls Day” in April and, as in previous years, Blohm+Voss participated in a series of events that introduces male-dominated occupations to girls. The yard welcomed 42 young girls and boys at its vocational training center and introduced them to the many occupations and vocational training opportunities available at Blohm+Voss.

Training itself is a Blohm+Voss tradition. The company’s qualification center offers modern instruction facilities and seminar rooms with experienced instructors. The programs offered include a variety of specialized seminars and courses in addition to complete training programs in metal-working, technical drawing, shipbuilding, thermal cutting, pneumatics and welding.

“We have a great workforce at Blohm+Voss; a good mix of experience and fresh talent,” says van Beers. “With the recent changes, we are now providing the right environment for them to be able to work together as one team and revive the pioneering spirit that Blohm+Voss has always been renowned for.” – MarEx

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.