On the way to the interview at the new office of C-Job Naval Architects in Rotterdam, Managing Director Basjan Faber was talking with a colleague about the maritime industry.
“It does not resemble the automotive or the aerospace industry,” he says.
“I like to compare it with architecture. Buildings are designed with client demands in mind and therefore the variations are endless.”
Ten years ago, Basjan Faber, together with Job Volwater as commercial director, founded the company C-Job Naval Architects. They started with a simple idea – form a group of enthusiast and talented naval architects and engineers and design vessels that are fit for their intended purpose and do this in close harmony with the ship owner.
“We wanted to be the link between the client and the shipyard. Like an architect is between someone who wants to build a house and a contractor.”
The young entrepreneurs knew how they wanted to work.
“Our goal was to empower our client’s business. Listen carefully to the client and translate their needs into a perfect vessel design,” explains Faber.
“Advanced ship designs and high-quality engineering solutions only come about when there is intensive cooperation with the client.”
Another new concept was that C-Job was not interested in owning the designs of the vessels.
“Our only focus is the ship owner. Together we invest a lot of time to make sure what the needs are.”
Ship owners know from experience how a vessel behaves and sometimes have own ideas how to improve this.
“After all this input it is logical that the ship owner has the copyrights of a design.”
The maritime industry can be conventional. So does starting a company that operates with a different approach. Another hurdle to take in the beginning was the lack of experience. This had to do with the fact that the founders were in their twenties when they founded C-Job.
“We were ambitious and there was a strong vision on how to perform the job. The only thing we did not have, was a track record. Next to our degrees, we had only a couple of years of working experience.”
Their enthusiasm did not go unnoticed. And soon they got a breakthrough when they signed a contract with Van Oord, one of the leading Dutch companies that specialises in dredging and land reclamation.
“The involvement of the design team rooted with Van Oord, which helped C-Job a lot in the beginning. Soon many other ship owners and shipyards followed.”
Faber has good memories of the cargo vessel Atlantic Dawn. The first steel for this ship was cut just six months after they started and once finished, the vessel was nominated for ‘Ship of the Year’.” The Atlantic Dawn was built for Hartman Marine Urk and five other vessels were realised using the original design.
More recently the company gained recognition for the ferry Texelstroom.
“We are very proud to have worked on the initial, concept and basic designs for the Texelstroom,” says Faber.
The CNG-Electric double-ended ferry won the 2017 Shippax Ferry Award. Other milestones are the dredgers that the company designed for DEME and Van Oord.
Today, C-Job employs 70 people and has three offices in the Netherlands. They are located in Hoofddorp, Joure and Rotterdam.
“We grew into the largest independent ship design and engineering office in the Netherlands.” The employees are a mix of naval architects, structural engineers and mechanical engineers.
The company is also investing in interior engineering because the look and feel of the inside of a vessel are not only important for the luxury yacht and ferry markets. Operators in the dredging and offshore industries, for instance, are paying more and more attention to the interiors of their vessels.
On average, a project team consists of six to eight persons, although this number is higher on the bigger projects like the offshore wind installation vessel Orion that is designed for DEME.
“The project teams work independently and we aim that twenty per cent of the team works at the office of the client. We do that because the communication lines should be short. Communication is everything in these projects.”
Faber gives his teams a lot of independence and trust.
“Our people are very talented and I think that they should be in a position to take their own decisions, although I am always monitoring the projects from a distance and correct processes when necessary,” says Faber.
It was never the goal of the company to be largest independent engineering office of the country so quickly.
“But our approach worked and it was very successful. Now we are focussing on markets outside of the Netherlands.”
The current position of C-Job also makes it possible to invest in R&D.
“It is important to shape our innovative ideas. At the moment we are working on several cases that are very promising and could have a large impact on our sector.”
One project is investigating how genetic algorithms can be used to automate and optimise the concept design stage of ship design. As the name suggests, genetic algorithms borrow certain principles from the field of biological genetics. This demonstrates that the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ also exists in the world of naval architecture and engineering. Looking at generations of ship designs on an individual level, it becomes clear which feasible designs pass on their winning characteristics to the next generation.
“We create progressive generations by combining the survivors from the previous generation with an amount of random design variation. The resultant ‘gene pool’ of ship designs gets better with each generation. The idea behind all this effort is that we can optimise the feasible designs for our clients and give more comprehensive options for future newbuilds.”
C-Job is carrying out this research in cooperation with software design house NAPA.
Ammonia as fuel
Another idea that is under research is ammonia as ship’s fuel. To use this type of fuel is environmentally friendly because it has carbon-free emissions.
An internal combustion engine can be used to burn the ammonia. This requires a catalyst to crack a small portion of ammonia into nitrogen and hydrogen. The pure hydrogen ignites and burns with the ammonia.
This technology already exists, it just needs to be applied in much larger engines with modern techniques. Other alternatives involve using fuel cells.
Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells are commercially available and are used, for example, in submarines in numerous of navies around the world. Here, the ammonia is fully separated, and the hydrogen is then used to generate electric power.
Ammonia, also known as NH3, is a binding of nitrogen with hydrogen. The nitrogen is sourced from existing air separation methods; after all, air is made up for 78 per cent of nitrogen. Hydrogen is produced through the electrolysis of water.
“Water and nitrogen are both abundant substances, which makes ammonia a future-proof fuel. Unlike LNG, because being a fossil fuel this form of energy is limited.”
This R&D is an investment in the future of the company. As a whole, Basjan Faber sees the Dutch maritime industry as a never-ending story.
“We will always find a way to serve the client better than our foreign competitors. But it is important to invest in education and training, because without a smart and educated works force that is not possible.”
To achieve this, the Dutch maritime industry should promote itself better among students.
“There is an image that working in the maritime industry involves dirty hands and that is not very attractive. We should take an example of the automotive and aerospace industry. They know how to market themselves and that attracts new students.”
This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #6 – 2017.