Fennia-Magazine about Kewatec AluBoat
Kewatec’s news nicely summed up by Fennia-magazine!
“Offshore boats challenge economic recession”
Kewatec AluBoat in Kokkola produces customer-specific boats for offshore-use. Focusing on its own skills, the company has found the path to growth and to the global market.
There is a big stack of aluminium plates of different sizes on the floor of the assembly hall. The five-mm thick aluminium plates which were transported from Keuruu (city located in mid- Finland) are cut by laser to the right model and there are round and square holes in the edges. Every single one of them has a specific purpose and is marked by laser with its own number code. This is just like a usual puzzle, CEO Jens Ahlskog describes the works ahead. In contrast to a usual puzzle, it will become a three-dimensional object. After two months, this stack of plates has changed into the hull of a fireboat with a length of 20 meters in upside down position. After this, the hull is turned into the right position and the welding of the deck structure is started.
Before it will be delivered to the customer in Holland, it will still need over 13,000 working hours.
A foretaste of what is to become the ready boat is given by the pilot boat with a length of 15 meters, ordered by Sweden, which is standing at the other end of the hall. The many welding seams are still visible in the unpainted hull of the boat. In the boat, men in blue jump suits are spraying insulation mass into the flanks of the boat, which is taking away the echo of the metal from the ready hull of the boat.
Kewatec mainly produces boats for the authorities and is navigating against the big flows of the economy. This year, the company’s turnover has grown from 5 million to 7.8 million euros. We also expect a growth in the coming year – although not quite as steep.
– For next year our goal is a turnover of 8.2 million. We will aim at a controlled growth of 5 – 10%, says Jens Ahlskog who has been the managing director for over a year now.
Behind the success are the changes in the company’s own processes and sales strategies. Kewatec is divided into departments, each of which is responsible for the budgeting offered and the staff resources. One has been able to keep within the budget and to keep the prices competitive.
It is indeed a prerequisite in public tenders that the price share in the decision moves between 60 and 100%.
The change in sales strategy has brought the company to markets where it has not previously been. Until recently, the domestic markets have covered the Nordic countries, but now Kewatec has, for example, also participated successfully in tender competitions in Germany and the Netherlands.
– We are looking for growth and international expansion. Earlier on, there have been restrictions on the road – for example the lack of language skills and networks. We have therefore hired local people from the countries of destination, says the managing director.
This year, Kewatec has produced a record number of boats. The most recent boat, an orange pilot boat which is soon heading for Norrköping – is getting its final onlay next to the assembly hall.
The interior of the almost ready boat is modest. The pilot boat does not need any niceties, its purpose is to bring one man from the harbour to a boat in open sea and back. It also needs better solutions for work safety and reliability. A warmed deck and railings to prevent slipping, electrical ice-melting windows, continuous surveillance camera for the engine room and two Scania engines with 450 hp.
– The systems are simple and visible so that they are easy to repair, if necessary.
Almost all Kewatec boats are tailor-made to the customer’s needs. Official boats must fulfil a huge number of requirements, which come from the different countries’ maritime regulations and EU safety regulations. All this increases the boats’ average price to nearly a million euro.
– We participate in far from all tender competitions. The value of the order must be at least half a million to make it worthwhile for us to at least make a bid, says Ahlskog.
Among Kewatec’s customers are different countries’ border patrol, defence forces, fire and rescue services and piloting companies.
– We make durable boats. As a standard, we take it that for example a pilot or tender boat is used 5 to 8 hours a day. It requires transport durability and on the part of passenger boats also “vandal resistance”, says Jens Ahlskog with a smile.
Climate of cooperation
The production of boats has a long tradition in the coastal cities of Ostrobothnia. Sailing boats – the Swan and the Baltic – are produced in the neighbouring municipalities of Kokkola and here, along the harbour of Kokkola, in the MarineGate region, aluminium boats are manufactured in addition to among others small sailing boats, jet-ski’s and yachts.
Same industry companies could compete with each other – at least for skilled labour – but at the west coast, right oppositely, companies are cooperating.
Cooperation helps everyone. We use the same subcontractors, borrow special tools from each other and organise joint exhibition trips. We are not in direct competition, but the companies specialize in different products and geographical areas.
According to Jens Ahlskog, the atmosphere of entrepreneurship in Ostrobothnia is more positive than elsewhere in Finland. Even though the people from Ostrobothnia are applying quite the same rules and in the same economical environment as the other entrepreneurs, they are optimists and see more possibilities than barriers. The threshold to establish a company and to make it grow is not too high.
– Here, we maybe dare to take more risks. It is not always based on knowledge, but on instinct. But if the risks are not taken, it may cause the biggest losses.
There are risks involved in the production of boats – both physical and business risks. At this moment, aluminium is being welded in the assembly hall, so fire equipment and knowledge must be in condition. The workforce participates in the development of safety at the workplace through initiatives and proposals for improvement. The operation is being developed and risky places are being eliminated continuously.
– We have close cooperation with the local representatives of insurance company Fennia. We have open conversations and get support from them for the operation development.
The most important business risk is Kewatec’s high dependence on the public sector procurement. About 70% of the company’s turn-over comes from the state, commune and other dependent sources of the public sector, such as, for example, pilot companies.
– We have tried to manage the risks by directing our offers towards companies and private persons. We are, however, very specialised, we do not try to just reach any possible consumer whatsoever.
Lunch box of success
The new phase in the story of Kewatec started last year, when it founded a joint venture in the province of Shangdong, China. The local company is Conglin Group, with which one has started to manufacture aluminium boats for the Chinese markets, based on the Finnish technology and models.
– Conglin is a world class manufacturer of aluminium products through which we get valuable aluminium know-how.
– Know-how is our competitive factor and it means the way we plan the ships and lead the projects. Luckily, the change of the workforce has been small. People get on well at our company, because we listen to the people’s hopes and we take care of their job satisfaction.
The second challenge relates to the continuous development of products and the ensuring of high quality.
– The world is changing and with it the requirements for our products. Especially in the future, the official boats are required to be environment-friendly and energy and resource effective. We need continuously to develop and innovate something new.
The quality of work has an important meaning for the success of a deal, because this deal in general contains only one boat and the option of several. If the customer is satisfied, he will order more.
• domiciled in Kokkola
• founded in 1998
• founder of the company and chairman of the board: Karl-Erik Wargh
• managing director: Jens Ahlskog
• turn-over :7.8 million euro
• staff : 50
Text: Jarno Forssell
Picture: Esko Keski-Vähälä