THE PRODUCTION LINE
The standardisation philosophy is the root of Damen’s success. The above image, from 1970, shows the concept at work. Pictured are a number of Pushy Cats at Damen Shipyards Hardinxveld at various stages of construction. Compare this with the image below, taken recently at Damen Song Cam Shipyard in Vietnam showing the series production of Damen tugs and workboats in the present day.
ORIGINS OF R&D
Following the success of standardising the construction process of the Pushy Cat, Damen expanded the concept to new vessels such as Stan Tugs, Stan Pushers, Stan Carriers and Stan Landers.
“To accelerate this step forward, we needed a dedicated design department to carry out preliminary and concept vessel studies,” Joop Jansen, Manager Research & Development Department, highlights, referring to the origins of the Damen Research Department.
It was our job to come up with new designs and present them to the sales and technical teams at monthly product development meetings. Everybody had the opportunity to give their feedback on our designs – which sometimes could lead to some very long but inspiring discussions.”
“These monthly meetings also brought new insight and ideas,” he goes on to say. “There would be new vessel concepts added to our to-do list; we couldn’t design them fast enough! The starting point in a design was always a standard construction package and never with a specified yard number. That is how we worked. First standardisation and then building. And not the other way around.”
PRACTICAL JOKES IN THE EARLY DAYS
Steef Staal, now Managing Director of Damen Marine Components, joined the steadily growing Damen team in 1973. “It was a young team back then,” he recalls. “And, maybe because everyone was so young, we had quite a lot of fun. We played jokes on the office staff by replacing the microphones in their telephones with weights.
“And I could imitate Kommer Damen’s voice particularly well over the phone. This lead to some memorable incidents – like one Friday afternoon in Hardinxveld. Pretending to be Kommer, I called up a sales guy from another room. I could see him from where I was and I can remember how he straightened his tie before he took the telephone. I told him ‘Come to
my office,’ and he got up at once.
As he passed the room I was in, I called to him to tell him it was a joke, but he said ‘Not now Steef, I have to see Kommer.’ And if I remember correctly, Kommer wasn’t even in that day!”
The pranks continued as the company expanded to Gorinchem. “The sales team there were close to tying up an order with a client from abroad. Dressed up in the national dress of that client, one of the new bookkeepers from Hardinxveld pretended he was there on behalf of the client to increase the order to twelve vessels. It caused quite a lot of excitement and took some time before anyone realised it was a joke!”
Anecdotes about practical jokes would of course be incomplete without a mention of April Fools’ Day. “One April 1st, we played a joke on a yard manager by convincing him that a client would be coming to inspect a vessel.
“We even set up a fake helicopter landing pad. When the appointed time came, the Yard Manager went out to greet the client. Instead of the client’s helicopter however, there was just a banner that said ‘April Fool’.”
Sales Engineer Services and long-standing Damen employee, Bert de Rover: “It was back then when we started to have two production teams. One team on outfitting and the second for detailed completion, commissioning and trials.
And, combining this with having all components in stock, this really made the whole process very efficient. One time we started outfitting a Pushy Cat 42 on a Friday afternoon. We worked all weekend to finish it in time for trials on Monday.”
IN THE MEANTIME….
The 1970s were a period of profound political changes in the world and an era of economic challenges for industrialised nations. Such things did not stand in the way of progress, however and the 1970s witnessed the birth of modern computing. During this decade, the first MRI image was produced and the first call made on a cell phone.
ALL MOD CONS
Steef Staal says Damen has always had a cutting-edge approach. “We always had the latest technology available. Back when I first started, there weren’t many computers around, but we did have word processors – a lot of people were still using typewriters.
“We also had access to telefax. Mind you, it was in the Post Office. If you wanted to send a message, one of the secretaries had to go down to the village.”
Nowadays, Damen continues to adopt the latest innovations on the market. Things are a little more advanced; amongst the tools to be found in the offices today are 3D printers and CAD PDM technology.
Bert de Rover’s opinion of Damen’s composite vessels has certainly changed over the years. In the mid-1970s, when Damen started building faster vessels, he was involved in the production of the Poly Cat.
He wasn’t much of a fan to begin with: “I used to call them the plastic buckets.” His stance on composite materials changed in 2016 when he was a passenger in a 60-knot Damen Interceptor. He used one word to describe the experience: “Sensational!”
Kommer Damen’s persistence during his first trips to the Middle East was paying off. The big dredging companies needed reliable equipment to meet the region’s soaring demand for port infrastructure. By
1978, about 100 Damen Pushy Cat workboats were operating there, so Damen took its first step outside the Netherlands with a Service Hub in Bahrain. Having the Damen technician arrive on site in Doha or as far as Jeddah within just a few days offered an extraordinary level of customer service for the time.
SETTING UP DAMEN’S SERVICE OFFICES ABROAD
After successfully setting up Damen’s first international service office in Bahrain in 1974, Hennie den Toom and Nijs van Noorloos took on the task of establishing the company’s presence in Nigeria.
“This was in 1976,” says Mr Den Toom. “The Nigerian civil construction and dredging industries were growing fast – and the cement trade was enormous. Flying into Lagos at night, you could see so many boats in the harbor waiting to unload that it looked as if a second city had erupted.”
The job of building up a business called for a great deal of independence from Mr Den Toom and the team: “Especially in terms of communication. We had to go the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos to make our international phone calls – and even then, there was a 4-hour long wait.” Another, more unpredictable, aspect was the political situation in Nigeria in the mid-1970s.
“To be honest, those were rough days. Not only for setting up a business, but also for my family, including my two children who were born there. We really enjoyed our 8 and half years there though. A fantastic time.” Never shy of a challenge, on leaving Nigeria in 1985, Mr Den Toom decided to drive back to Europe with a colleague – a journey that involved crossing the Sahara by car in mid-summer with temperatures roaring well over 50 C°.
“Of course, back then there was no such thing as satellite navigation,” he adds. “I remember calling my wife from a phone booth in Niamey [capital city of Niger] to tell her to expect a phone call from us when we arrived on the North Coast in 10 days’ time.”