The term “pioneer” is typically used too liberally, but after more than 40 years at a single company and helping establish a new business field the title is well earned. To mark the 20-year anniversary of our first foray into the challenging offshore wind market, we sat down with Rupert Reischl, Global Sales Manager Wind Cranes at PALFINGER MARINE. We are looking back at an extraordinary success story with many highlights and milestones – on both corporate and individual levels.
PALFINGER MARINE’s success in the offshore wind segment is closely intertwined with the vision of individuals willing to advance our business into new, uncharted waters. One of these pioneers is Rupert, who joined PALFINGER more than 40 years ago in March 1983. “I initially designed truck cranes from scratch for roughly eight years before the company decided to venture into the marine market. Back then, the marine department was a three-man operation that I joined in a technical sales capacity in 1993. It was certainly an exciting time,” he remembers. Subsequently, Rupert became solely responsible for our offshore wind operations in 2007/08. Relive an abridged version of Rupert’s personal journey in this short video interview.
FIRST STEPS INTO THE OFFSHORE WIND SEGMENT
PALFINGER MARINE had gained an immense volume of marine solutions experience in the offshore oil & gas field ever since delivering its first cranes in 1992. “As far as I recall, first contact was made with Repower and Areva in 2002, round about the time when 5 MW wind turbines were introduced,” Rupert recalls. These new turbines required service cranes, and PALFINGER MARINE was firmly convinced it had a role to play in this emerging market. The first prototypes were commissioned in 2003 and delivered in 2004, marking the beginning of our success story in the offshore wind segment.
The prototypes were subsequently tested extensively onshore. PALFINGER MARINE then equipped these cranes on the two wind turbine models used for Alpha Ventus, the first commercial offshore wind park in Germany, in 2009. They remained industry standard for many years to come. Contributing to this landmark project was a major first milestone for the company and its “young” offshore wind team.
THE CHALLENGES OF OFFSHORE WIND PARKS
Entering a new market field is always challenging, but the offshore wind segment had very particular needs and requirements. Rupert remembers: “First of all, it is important to understand that the offshore wind segment was initially very discreet and difficult to penetrate with advertising. Obviously, successful pilot projects give you a bit of an edge.” Apart from that, it soon became clear that the requirements are even more stringent than those in the oil & gas field.
“One of the biggest challenges is corrosion protection in harsh conditions, especially as the wind turbines are unmanned for extensive periods and the cranes are therefore rarely used,” Rupert says.
The learning curve was very steep, not least because we were a hydraulic crane manufacturer suddenly facing increasing demand for fully electric systems.Rupert Reischl, Global Sales Manager Wind Cranes at PALFINGER MARINE
PALFINGER MARINE started developing its first fully electric platform cranes, the PF series, in 2014/15. To give an idea of the demand, between 90% and 95% of all offshore wind platform cranes sold are now fully electric.
COMPLETE SOLUTIONS FOR OFFSHORE WIND CLIENTS
PALFINGER MARINE has made a name for itself as a provider of complete solutions, a reputation that extends into the offshore wind segment. Offshore wind parks usually include at least one substation for the turbines. “We provide top deck cranes and service cranes, as well as lifesaving appliances,” Rupert reveals. One of the latest developments for the industry is the offshore passenger transfer system (OPTS). “This system is designed to safely transfer passengers – or lift equipment weighing up to 1,000 kilograms – from a service vessel onto the transition piece. The process is aided by a moveable frame that compensates for the roll and pitch of the sea vessel,” he explains.
BRIGHT OFFSHORE WIND PROJECTS
The offshore wind industry still has enormous growth potential. The whole world is clamoring for renewable energy, and offshore wind parks will continue to play a significant role. “Remember when I mentioned the 5 MW wind turbines when we entered the market?” Rupert asks. “The newest generation of turbines has a capacity of 15 MW. These are huge machines that require various PALFINGER MARINE solutions including service cranes, our latest transfer system (OPTS), lifesaving appliances, and more. I would argue that PALFINGER MARINE will have plenty work to do over the next decade or two, both in terms of innovation development and production,” he added.
PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS ALONG THE JOURNEY
Success stories like PALFINGER MARINE’s are typically punctuated by personal highlights for the dedicated individuals involved in shaping new business – another recent example includes our colleague Cyrielle Gorini-Gonçalves’s contribution to PALFINGER’s innovative jib crane system. It goes without saying that we were eager to learn about Rupert’s fondest memories. His answer certainly didn’t disappoint: “One of my most treasured memories is when our then CEO called to inform me that PALFINGER MARINE had won the Areva supplier award. I was invited to a one-day event in Paris, where the Chairman of Areva presented the award to me in front of a huge crowd. I can tell you that a stage in Paris is quite different to a platform on an offshore wind turbine. It was a moment that felt special – and kind of cool. That is definitely a moment I will never forget.”
Even after 20 years, PALFINGER MARINE’s journey in the offshore wind segment seems far from over. There are still many chapters to write and we are sure Rupert will contribute to many of them. Keep an eye out for more industry innovations to come.