What is documented in PALFINGER’s full order books, becomes graspable by entering the busy boat workshop in Harderwijk, the Netherlands: A range of workboats, daughter crafts and fast rescue boats occupy most of the space. Engineers, swiftly moving from one side of the boat to the other, are using various assembly tools with such confidence as if they were born on the job. Others are clearing their workstations while humming along with music from the radio, only to be interrupted by the occasional buzz of welding machines. Then, our curious eyes are caught by the overhead cranes purposefully moving above the boats. There’s absolutely no way of not becoming infected by this vibrant working spirit.
“We have a lot going on here at the moment”, explains Alexander Schouten, PALFINGER’s Global Sales Director Boats and Davits. “Despite the challenging circumstances caused by the pandemic, we were able to keep our business running. We made some major adjustments to our working environment in order to fulfill the new COVID-19 driven regulations. Now, we are well prepared and ready to tackle our full order books”, asserts the dedicated Sales specialist.
Governmental boats on the rise
On looking at the boats that are currently being assembled, welded, and painted, a certain tendency becomes visible: “The demand of boats for operations in the governmental, search and rescue as well as fire-fighting segment is booming. At the moment, we are mainly working on fast rescue boats for defense and fire-fighting purposes. Workboats and daughter crafts are also on our current to-do-list”, says Alex as he walks us through the boat workshop. He confirms that all designs are developed in-house.
We want to know what aspects are most important to the customer when they consider ordering a boat from PALFINGER. “Clients like to know our references on previous projects. They want to convince themselves of the stability and performance of our boats”, answers Alex. “Further key aspects are user-friendliness as well as local service and after sales support. And, not to forget, our flexibility when it comes to customizing the design according to the client’s wishes. Which, by the way, is one of our greatest assets, as is the fact that we can provide complete solutions – a boat with the accompanying davit or stern entry system. And finally,”, he begins as we meet up with Project Engineer Tijmen van Nieuwenhuijzen, “the team’s qualifications, experience and knowhow are decisive factors”.
A tale of planning, drawing and building
Taking over, Tijmen leads us further across the boat workshop, passing busy engineers and several boats. In the seven years he has been working at PALFINGER, the passionate engineer has become an expert in his field. “We take care of the whole developing process – from tender drawings to the final boat delivery”, he explains. Curious, we dig deeper: What are the main steps in developing a boat?
“First, the naval architect designs the hull shape and structure for the boat, which need to withstand the required sea states. Then, the mechanical engineer comes in. He is responsible for the design of the console as well as all the required components within the hull. The key here is to fulfill all the client’s specific demands as much as the required class rules. The third step is called system engineering, meaning all systems are designed and fitted into the boat. These include, for example, propulsion, steering, fire-fighting, cooling or hydraulics. The great thing is, we use Virtual Reality during the entire design phase. This way, we make sure that all components actually fit into the available space and can be easily serviced”, Tijmen points out.
“After this phase, all drawings will be submitted to class for certification. If everything is in order, the boat will go into production. Then, here in Harderwijk, we assemble our boats with all the systems”, he explains, “Last but not least, we are all set for testing the boat”, he wraps up the process as a boat is being launched into the water for the first time. It is taken out to the testing area starting right behind the workshop.
Boats and skills put to test
“To see if the boat delivers what it promises, it has to undergo a vigorous testing plan. In fact, we need to check if it has been welded accurately and if it fulfills our PALFINGER standards. During testing, we pay special attention to the strength of the hull, functioning of all the systems, maximum speed and bollard pull”, Tijmen tells us, pointing at the engine room and systems of the boat that is about to be tested.
What is the biggest challenge of your job, we ask. “The time, for starters. We need to get everything ready in time for production. Secondly, incorporating all parts and systems into the boat in a way that they are still easy to be maintained by operators and technical service. Sometimes, we receive requests that at first seem impossible to carry out. But, with some ingenuity and imagination, we always get it done”, Tijmen answers, grinning.
On asking him about his favorite part of the job, his answer comes promptly: “It’s the diversity. We do all the engineering of all the systems ourselves. So, when you work on a boat project, you are responsible for engines, propulsion, hydraulics, electrics and overall integration engineering”.
Excited and a little exhausted, we leave the production site, digesting the profound knowledge we gained. Finally, we may conclude: Behind the effortless, daily routine we observed in the beginning of our tour, are highly skilled boat engineers with thorough background studies related to marine engineering or naval architecture, topped by years of experience working in the field. The dedication and attention to detail the team of boat mechanics pay to their work left us notably impressed. It is them who develop the sophisticated solutions that PALFINGER’s customers value. And this again is what makes them indispensable for PALFINGER’s marine business.