LR’s Offshore Technology Manager, Mark Tipping, looks at China’s defining role in offshore construction.

Countries such as Japan, Korea and China have all earned their place in recent history for constructing large complex impressive ships at low cost with the latest technology. Now China has risen as an Offshore power house, offering a new vision of how technology is applied to offshore projects.

We’re seeing China breaking the convention and taking a very different approach to the offshore industry. An industry renowned for operating in the most extreme environments, where the asset cannot remove itself from extreme weather and therefore must not only be rugged, but also capable of maintaining production, or at the very least have the capability to ramp up to full production quickly if a severe weather event occurs. The impact of not maintaining production can be severe, not just the millions of dollars that can be lost per day, but in financial penalties that facility operators can face if production is stopped – even for a short-time. Hence why the basis of design is key in delivering a project that meets the requirements of environmental survivability and the reliability to maintain production.

Unsurprisingly, this comes with a price tag which has led to claims that the offshore industry and the associated Classification Rules are expensive, there is an obvious truth to this, at least to some extent anyway – if you want to build an asset that will survive in harsh environments there is an associated cost. But what about the locations that are more benign than normal ship operating locations – does this also hold true? No, is the simple answer. LR’s Offshore Rules give the flexibility to design for the location and its environment – meaning you can produce a design that is fit for purpose.

So, how does this relate to China? During a recent visit, I was lucky enough to have visited a number of key companies, ranging from design institutes, shipyards to process plant supplies. I was struck by a common theme amongst them all: a clear focus on the design basis and what the client was trying to achieve with their project. This was then directly related back to the first principles engineering approach, where you look at a problem and the best way of fulfilling the goal. For most of us this might seem like a highly logical approach, however, for most floating offshore projects a common approach has been to adapt the latest project with least effort through designing, equipping and building the asset in a similar manner to a ship.

Obviously, adapting ship building practice does have some merits, however this inevitably leads to compromise – usually in the ability to maintain production, require expensive onsite repairs or to stay on station for the required life of the project – all bringing with them major financial consequences for the operator.

So, what is different about China and the approaches they are using? Well, in simple terms – the facility is being designed for the task in hand rather than a previous design being reinvented to fit a compromised solution. As we’ve seen with other shipping industries around the world as they have developed, China is evolving rapidly especially with respect to quality which for process plants can account for more than a third of a project’s cost is a prerequisite.