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Leader profile: Jan van der Tempel, Ampelmann

Wed 30 Jan 2019 by Ed Martin

Leader profile: Jan van der Tempel, Ampelmann
Company founder Jan van der Tempel has been chief executive of Ampelmann since its formal creation in 2007

The concept for Ampelmann was conceived at an offshore wind conference in Berlin, and it is from the iconic hatted figures on that city’s pedestrian crossing lights that the company takes its name. The reasoning behind this symbolism is simple: the company’s motion-compensated gangway walk-to-work system can make offshore access as easy as crossing the street.

Company founder Jan van der Tempel has been chief executive of Ampelmann since its formal founding in 2007, with the exception of a two-year hiatus between 2015 and 2017.

The biggest challenge Mr van der Tempel has faced since returning to his post was to reconsider Ampelmann’s growth strategy. “Instead of trying to plough on with plans we thought we had, what we did was go back to the core of the company,” he said, explaining that this involved ensuring the full fleet was available for operation and getting Ampelmann systems back onto vessels.

As a young company, Ampelmann suffered during the downturn, as operators dialed back platform maintenance and contracts were either not extended or cancelled. But thanks to the solid and practical approach taken since Mr van der Tempel’s return, Ampelmann’s entire fleet was either working or transiting between jobs at the time of writing.

Mr van der Tempel explained that his leadership style is informed by a philosophy of listening and interacting, with customers, suppliers and people inside Ampelmann. Based on the information and understanding learned from this approach, decisions can be made and communicated clearly. While remaining flexible and versatile, this strategy provides a clear direction for people to understand how to do their job, Mr van der Tempel said.

In Mr van der Tempel’s experience, the key to good leadership is clarity of vision and an ability to communicate that vision into something relatable. There is a tendency for people to focus on the details of the here-and-now, he said, but “the core of effective leadership is to take people out of that ‘now urge’ and paint a picture towards the future.”

By understanding what is coming you can gain better a perspective on the present, he said: “We as a society need to focus a lot more on that because I think we [...] get a little bit carried away by the stress of the moment.”

With the upward trend in oil prices, Ampelmann has been engaging more with larger oil companies, helping to boost the effectiveness of offshore operations through walk-to-work systems. “When an operator embraces walk-to-work integration in their offshore operations they are able to reduce their operational costs year-on-year by 50% or even 60,” said Mr van der Tempel.

Walk-to-work is not just a gangway and a boat, said Mr van der Tempel; rather it is an entire philosophy that differs significantly from helicopter use or the use of jack-ups and other facilities. Ampelmann is working with offshore operators and vessel operators to spread the word.

One of the lessons of the downturn has been a greater focus on efficiencies, with operators rethinking how they execute projects by reducing manpower and costs, said Mr van der Tempel: “On the cost side, many of the players that didn’t fall over or go bankrupt have been able to operate at a lower cost level doing the same stuff.”

On the theme of efficiencies, Mr van der Tempel believes the current trend towards digitalisation will continue to grow, driven by the increasing availability of high-speed internet offshore. Improved communications technology and greater availability means it is easier than ever to transmit data to operational centers for analysis. This allows companies to carry out preventive maintenance and identify faults and failures before they become major problems.

Ampelmann is also embracing virtual reality training for systems operators. This means that instead of having to send operators offshore for two weeks at a time to train and qualify, they can carry out the training in three days in an office, reducing both financial and time costs. Emergency procedures that are not usually seen in normal operations can be repeatedly drilled in a virtual environment, and the systems generate logs that can produce reports on the quality of an operator’s skills.

To further improve efficiency, Ampelmann is in the process of redesigning all of its systems to operate electrically rather than hydraulically, taking advantage of regenerative technology. “Instead of just running a lot of power in keeping our gangway completely stationary we now only use power when we extend our cylinders and we are able to regenerate most of that as the cylinders go back down again,” explained Mr van der Tempel. Elaborating, he said that Ampelmann estimates its systems’ power consumption could be reduced by as much as 90% using this technique.

Reducing energy use has obvious environmental benefits and on that theme Mr van der Tempel observed that the industry is facing a large transition toward more environmentally friendly vessels: “We have to have partnerships to understand how to make that transition and also make sure that we share the burden.”

He added: “We need to keep our industry running, while at the same time making sure we move to decarbonisation.”

Indeed, there is much that offshore oil and gas and offshore renewables can learn from each other, bringing mutual benefits: “I think as a society we will not step away from using energy, so we will need an energy mix that, for the foreseeable future, still relies on hydrocarbons, but hydrocarbons in transition to and in conjunction with offshore renewables.”

“The core to long-term success is to make sure we understand the driving forces in these two combined sectors and ensure we apply lessons learned in one sector more quickly in the other, and vice versa.”

The renewables market will be under discussion at the annual Offshore Support Journal Conference, Awards & Exhibition in London 6-7 February 2019. Book your place now.

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