Engineering boom for the North East

AN offshore engineering specialist has said it is expecting "significant growth" in the next couple of years after signing contracts worth £100m.

Capacity tower for Saipem

AN offshore engineering specialist has said it is expecting "significant growth" in the next couple of years after signing contracts worth £100m.

IHC Engineering Business employs 180 people in Stocksfield, Northumberland, and at the Port of Tyne, and is excited about growth in markets such as offshore pipe-laying for the oil and gas industry.

It has developed a range of subsea vehicles designed for the offshore wind industry, and expects to agree a deal with a launch client this year.

Managing director Neil Baxter said the company is looking to expand its North East workforce by around 20%, but admitted there would be scope for more eye-opening growth if it could attract enough qualified engineers.

“We could win enough work to double the output team in the business today.” he said.

In 2007, investment was made in the design of a new range of pipe-laying equipment. This added focus required the hiring of different types of talent including experienced structural engineers, but has paid dividends to the extent it now makes up a big proportion of the business.

Earlier this month, IHC signed a deal with SapuraCrest to design and build two 550-tonne pipelaying vessels, while a third contract for a 300- tonne vessel had been agreed with OSX Construcao Naval SA Brazil. They are worth more than £100m.

Past projects include the creation of a 2,000-tonne capacity tower for Saipem, which is 65m tall and can handle pipes from four inches to 36 inches in diameter.

Baxter said: “We’ve moved from scratch to a position where we’re either equal or leading in the offshore pipelay sector.

“We’ve taken on two very large contracts for pipelay equipment and one medium one, having never done something like that just a few years ago.

“There are now two major players including us, and a couple of more minor ones. The market for oil and gas is very strong, with hot spots in Brazil, as well as China and parts of Africa.”

IHC EB is also focusing in on another big area of growth, developing subsea vehicles for the offshore wind sector. It is offering a fast-track engineering solutions service for large offshore projects called EB Solutions, as well as life cycle support for its equipment.

The firm has a turnover of around £50m and expects that to grow. This expectation of growth is partly what prompted a shake-up of management over the last year. Baxter joined the company last April, and IHC EB has brought in a new operations director, finance director and engineering manager.

IHC EB is a subsidiary of IHC Merwede, which employs over 3,000 people around the world in centres such as The Netherlands, China, France, India, Russia, the USA and the Middle East. With four growth markets to explore, Baxter believes the main barrier to growth for ICB EB is the availability of suitable staff.

“We’ve been recruiting ever since I’ve been here. The real barrier to growth is access to good quality people, particularly engineers. All we see now is talk about people losing their jobs and we couldn’t be any further from that here.

“It’s a fantastic time to be an engineer. I wish I was in my twenties again and just leaving university with an engineering degree. The job opportunities in terms of location and market sector for well-qualified young engineers is enormous. A large proportion of our senior engineers are under 30 and they’ve grown in the business. It’s a passport to go wherever you want, and the salaries are extremely good.”


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