How the technology works
"We’re called Drydocks World and that's what we mean" comments Dubai shipyard manager Hamed Bin Lahej on the company’s expansion plans and their shiplift installations...
"I think that the present trend is irreversible" – interview with the German Consul General in Dubai on the current economic boom in the emirate...
In Dubai, specialists from Bosch Rexroth hoist ships weighing many metric tons out of the Arabian Gulf with hairsbreadth precision – and all under the most difficult conditions. Specialized technology provides protection from sand, seawater, and high air humidity, as high-precision drive mechanisms distribute the ships among more than 40 mooring areas. Read more to find out all about the land journey of these ocean-going giants in this ultra-modern Emirate port…
Dubai. Peter Ballemans is trying to find a ship weighing 6,000 metric tons to borrow for just a short while but, despite his best efforts, his search so far has been unsuccessful. He has been phoning around for days trying to solve this dilemma, but “anything that somehow manages to float seems to be booked out.” It shouldn’t really come as a surprise in a seaport that currently resembles a building site. Allegedly, a quarter of the world’s cranes operate here. Huge earthworks are currently being created to extend the country’s coastline, which is some 70 kilometers long. Where else could it be but Dubai?
And Ballemans, a Bosch Rexroth engineer from the Netherlands, is in the middle of this metropolis on the Arabian Gulf that is home to over a million people, attempting to make himself heard above the noise of the traffic. He is valiantly trying to explain to the person on the other end of his cell phone that he urgently needs to borrow a ship of any shape or size for just a few days.
Some distance away on an artificial peninsula, Ballemans’ colleague and compatriot Frans van der Krabben is in a dusty site office poring over some technical drawings. A sign hangs on the door “Rexroth. Bosch Group.” The air conditioning, held together with sticky tape, hums and clatters, putting up a brave fight against the intense heat that is ever-present – even in winter. Empty water bottles are piling up in a corner and fine grains of sand are blowing through narrow cracks onto the trampled floor. From outside comes the noise of hammers striking and saws screeching, while the dull thud of steel on steel can be heard from afar.
Frans van der Krabben – tanned, friendly, and with a handshake that obviously stems from his time in the merchant navy – became accustomed to the noise a long time ago. The source of the noise is just a few steps away: twelve ocean-going vessels, neatly lined up on metal carriages, are lit up by welding torches and flying sparks and back-dropped against a clear blue sky. Ballemans, van der Krabben, and many other Bosch Rexroth associates have worked hard to get these ships on solid ground so that they can be repaired safely.
It has taken the Dutch specialists just one and a half years to build the region’s biggest ship-lift facility – under the most demanding conditions. “In summer, the temperature rises to 50 degrees Celsius,” explains Sales Manager Hans van Herwerden, “which is a real challenge for both people and material.” A special design was required to protect the sensitive technology against the heat, sand, salt water, and humidity.
But their efforts have paid off: “This facility has great strategic importance for us – it is a real reference project.” Van Herwerden is standing on the roof of a four-storied control tower, looking out over a huge, sandy concrete area, criss-crossed by railway tracks. It is an expanse that makes even the biggest cranes look like miniature models.
He is looking at one of the biggest building sites in the world, measuring around two square kilometers. It has taken 32 million cubic meters of sand and – as fate would have it – around one thousand and one nights, that is, just less than three years, to transform the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf into the Dubai Maritime City. Around 100,000 people will soon be living and working in this “unique showcase of seafaring skills that represents an incredible marriage of business and sea,” says Nawfal Al-Jourani, head of marketing for the project. The ship-lift facility is located on the bank of one of the concrete bays. It comprises a track system with two large ship-lifts, one 90 m in length, the other 130 m.
“When we submitted our tender for the contract, there was only water here – the land hadn’t been created yet,” remembers van Herwerden. However, two years ago it was by no means certain that he would be standing here now, surveying the completed project with a feeling of satisfaction. After all, the clients in the United Arab Emirates had other offers to consider besides the one from Bosch Rexroth.
Find out in the next part how Bosch Rexroth used a combination of skill and patience to secure the major contract, how to relax on a ski slope under the intense heat of the desert sun, and discover whether Peter Ballemans ever did find that ship…
Hans van Herwerden has had plenty of opportunities to learn exactly what you need to do successful business on the Arabian Peninsula. As the Bosch Rexroth engineer responsible for marketing the company’s ship-lifting technology explains, “Trust is the mainstay of business here. They place a lot of emphasis on open and honest communication and a long-term mindset. He and his colleague Peter Ballemans traveled back and forth between their base and the Jadaf shipyard in Dubai to negotiate with the company’s Indian lawyers and Arab managers about the construction of the ship-lifting facility.
“It certainly wasn’t easy,” recalls Peter Ballemans. “Jadaf initially favored an offer from the competition.” To give their tender a boost, the Bosch Rexroth team invited Managing Director Hamid Bin Lahej to Scotland to inspect a ship-lift they had installed there and got the Lloyd’s Register Group to confirm the technical superiority of their offer – and were finally awarded the contract for both ship-lifts. Bin Lahej is impressed, too: “We can hoist ships out of the water that weigh up to 6,000 metric tons and transport them onward on land. This is more than double the previous figure.”
The smaller platform for ships weighing up to 3,000 metric tons has been up and running since the end of 2006, while the bigger one just has to be put through some final tests. That is why Ballemans is now sitting in a taxi and phoning around to try and find an appropriate ship.
He’s certainly got the time because the traffic moves through Dubai like a tired camel through the desert. More than 210,000 vehicles (with horns!) were registered here in 2006 alone, with an underground system still under construction. But let’s get back to the taxi: “The engine runs 24 hours a day,” says Anand Shankar. “I drive from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., and then my colleague takes over the wheel.” And Shankar goes back to his tiny flat. The taxi driver from southern India has lived in Dubai for two years and has worked every day since his arrival. As a foreigner and a man he is part of the majority group of the almost 1.5 million inhabitants – only every fifth inhabitant of Dubai is a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, and women only account for around a quarter of the city’s population.
With the exception of the traffic, the speed of life in Dubai is breathtaking. As Ballemans explains, “It’s amazing how fast things move here. It seems like a new world center is being created.” It’s true – it has the world’s tallest building, the most luxurious hotels, and artificial palm islands that stretch for kilometers and are home to thousands of villas. The rate of development is unparalleled.
Nawfal Al-Jourani, the Maritime City’s genial PR boss, explains the reasons behind the boom in the Gulf: “Those in charge were quick to realize that the revenue from the oil business would not last forever. Therefore, they made a conscious decision to invest the money rather than spend it.” The economy of Dubai is still driven by money from oil but, as the German Consul General in Dubai, Johann-Adolf Cohausz, is quick to point out, it’s not the emirate’s own money: “A lot of investment comes from Abu Dhabi and neighboring countries.” The region’s own oil only accounts for five percent of the economic output.
At any rate, there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the money or sheer willpower in the emirate. On the outskirts of the city, where there used to be only a desert landscape, the traffic – for once – speeds along the twelve-lane Sheik-Zayed Road, through great valleys of skyscrapers and past enormous shopping malls. It was here in the Mall of the Emirates that Hans van Herwerden sometimes came to relax during months of exhausting negotiations. But while there, he didn’t go shopping and lug heavy bags around. “The heat outside is almost unbearable, while inside I can choose from between five runs at a temperature of minus 2 degrees – that’s madness,” jokes Herwerden. The Mall is home to the world’s biggest in-door ski resort – snow sports enthusiasts and those tired of the desert can enjoy more than 22,000 square meters of snow with an altitude difference up to 60 meters, not forgetting the chairlifts, of course.
Dubai’s appreciation of records and excellence – as Al-Jourani says: “We always want to go the extra mile” – was a useful sales aid for van Herwerden and Ballemans during negotiations. “At the time, we said that, as everything in Dubai is state-of-the-art, it makes sense that the ship-lifting facility is too.” And now tests on the larger platform will show whether the client was right to have trusted the Bosch Rexroth specialists on all counts.
Find out in the next part whether the system will be certified, what difference a tenth of a millimeter can make, and what 21 Airbus A 380s have to do with shiplifting technology…
Anand Shankar steers the Toyota taxi towards Maritime City, struggles through Dubai’s busy Old Town at a walking pace, past Indian women in brightly colored saris, Arabs in traditional, pristine white dishdashas, women covered head-to-toe in black robes, and tradesmen from Pakistan in kaftans reaching down to their ankles. Bosch Rexroth engineer Peter Ballemans sits in the back, looking out at the countless small shops and signs advertising goods in English, Arabic, Urdu, Tamil, Hindi and, from time to time, Chinese or Cyrillic.
Suddenly, Ballemans’ cell phone rings and he no longer notices the spices and fabrics on display or the posters advertising flats in the “Boris Becker Business Tower”. An employee from the Jadaf shipyard is calling to say that he has finally managed to round up two ships which, although not weighing the full 6,000 metric tons, are more than sufficient to meet the certification requirements set by Lloyd’s. Just by way of comparison, they could alternatively have used 21 Airbus A 380s, which also weigh in at around 6,000 metric tons in total…
At the entrance to the Maritime City, the Indian security guards check Ballemans’ papers before the taxi moves on through a confusion of dusty construction site roads to the huge space dedicated to the ship-lifting facility. A barge is just entering the smaller ship-lift, where a platform holding a metal transport carriage on rails lies in wait below the surface of the water. Then, at the push of a button in the control tower, the servo motors spring quietly into action, a warning horn sounds, and 14 winches slowly lift the steel frame, carriage, and ship out of the water at a speed of 30 centimeters a minute. The higher the ship climbs, the smaller the people at the edge of the ship-lift seem.
Each winch is designed to handle a maximum weight of 375 metric tons; the system is equipped with two brakes – one in the motor, the other directly on the winch – for safety purposes. The drives are controlled by a cleverly-designed control system: “The maximum difference between the two winches is less than a tenth of a millimeter,” explains Hans van Herwerden. “This precision is important because it stops the ships from slipping.” The highest precision is required for enormous loads – the bigger of the two platforms weighs 1,200 metric tons alone.
A few days later, the two barges arrive as promised. The two ships steer into the larger ship-lift and are made fast before the Bosch Rexroth engineer Raymond van Beek presses the “heave up” button of the 6,000-ton system for the first time. Everything runs like clockwork, and the facility is certified.
Now, barges of increasingly formidable size and weight roll heavily over the track system onto land, joining the twelve enormous ships that are already being serviced in their berths.
On the horizon far beyond the shipyard, Dubai’s skyscrapers seem to cower in the mist, overshadowed by the Burj Dubai, which, although still under construction, is already the tallest building in the world. On completion, it will eventually rise to a height of 800 meters. The Bosch Rexroth specialists are already packing their bags ready to move on to the next project, preparing to leave a part of the world that is setting new standards for the future with its fairytale construction projects and bold futuristic fantasies. However, what they are leaving behind is far from make-believe – it is state-of-the-art ship-lifting technology…