West Africa’s oil and gas industry lures Cape Town fabricator

West Africa’s oil and gas industry lures Cape Town fabricator

“Securing a substantial fabrication contract in Ghana for Subsea 7 is the entrée into establishing a fully-fledged fabrication subsidiary to service the oil and gas industry in West Africa”, managing director of Bellville based Belmet Marine
and Engineering, declared, Pieter Kroon, declared.

The 46 year old specialist steel fabrication company established operations in Ghana two years ago to exploit the opportunities of the region’s off-shore and on-shore oil, gas and mining activities.

“Establishing ourselves in Ghana was a strategic decision – geographically, it is ideally placed amongst the offshore oil and gas fields of the Gulf of Guinea. Ghana is a stable, English speaking country where the population are keen to work and the government welcomes foreign investment with a minimum of red tape, realising that establishing new industries contributes to the nation’s development and economy by creating jobs and acquiring skills,” explained Kroon.

In addition to its own offshore oil and gas resources, Ghana has a thriving gold mining industry that has attracted many multi-national companies.

Fabrication details

The Subsea 7 contract is the first project to be undertaken by the company on Ghanan soil although a portion of the fabrication work will be completed in Cape Town, a significant percentage of the work will be undertaken in Ghana. It is anticipated that the 70 skilled artisan positions will be created for local Ghanans with technical supervision being supplied by six or seven ex-pat South Africans which will gradually be reduced as skills and resources are created locally.

Details of the Subsea 7 contract include three work scopes and will require the fabrication of approximately 860 tons of steel. The first work scope consists of six suction piles of about 110 tons each, which will be fabricated onsite in Ghana. Similar projects have been fabricated by Subsea 7 previously in Nigeria and Angola but Belmet’s reputation, proximity to the customer and established track record of meeting its stringent quality requirements and tight delivery
deadlines, secured the contract.

The second scope of work relates to the fabrication of 18 sleepers totalling about 200 tons of steel. These will be partially fabricated in Cape Town before being shipped to Ghana for completion. Belmet is due to commence work in October in Cape Town, with balance of work commencing in January 2015.

The third and final work package will consist of 17 subsea structures with high-pressure piping. Fabrication of this 500 ton steel portion of the contract will commence in October with a delivery date of June 2015. 

“In total this represents about nine months of work employing 130 people, which is in contrast to industry norms where order books seldom extend beyond three months” says Kroon. “This is a real accomplishment as it ensures job security and a full workload for the company.”

Background to success 

From small beginnings in 1968 as a general engineering fabricator, Belmet focused predominantly on the construction materials industry. Modest growth was achieved over the years until 1990 when opportunities were identified in the marine industry by circumventing the traditional ship repair business, which focused on ad-hoc repairs and required a presence in the Cape Town docks. Recognising that the marine industry required suppliers that were technologically adaptive to the industry, Belmet decided to pre-fabricate large structures in their Bellville factory and to install these on customer-owned vessels, once these vessels docked in the harbour. 

This advanced approach paid off and set Belmet on course to become the leaders in the use of CAD-software (3-D CAD and 3-D AutoShip) within the local ship repair industry. With these design tools and skills Belmet was able to model structural designs and to identify potential pitfalls, before the physical fabrication process commenced, saving workshop man-hours which resulted in shorter lead-time deliveries and absolute accuracy of manufacture, eliminating time-consuming re-work and on-site modifications.

Belmet ventured into the subsea fabrication industry and following the successful delivery of seven Manifolds for Subsea 7 on the PetroSA South Coast Gas Development Project in late 2006. This led to further contracts being secured through Subsea 7 on the ExxonMobil Saxi Batuque and on the Chevron Tombua Landana projects. 

In 2010 Belmet opened an independent fabrication facility in Walvis Bay, Namibia. This development satisfied customer requests by providing a high tech facility in close proximity to Angolan and West African markets. The Namibian government identified the offshore oil and gas industry as a significant factor in the future growth of Walvis Bay and to encourage development have provided and earmarked some excellent facilities for companies operating in the port area. 

Opening new facilities is just one side of the coin even though driven by customer demand; the investment and logistics involved, particularly access to skilled artisans in another country is not insignificant. Belmet realised that the success of their Cape Town business model could be replicated with relative ease in Walvis Bay where marine, offshore oil and gas, mining and industrial customers wanted its services.

A similar Belmet business model, incorporating a flat management structure, coupled with a hands-on approach has been rolled out in Walvis Bay which allows for a transfer of skills from Belmet’s project management team and experienced artisans to the local Namibian artisans and operators.

The Belmet difference

Belmet has a flat hands-on management structure which means that project managers are personally involved in all aspects of each project – from the quotation, to design, to fabrication, to installation and commissioning. This results in totally customer-focused and service-oriented methodology. By adopting this approach and fully understanding customer’s requirements, fabrications are delivered on time to their exacting specifications.

Belmet’s team of experienced mainly youthful engineers are open to new technologies and constantly review all practices and procedures to find a better, more efficient method of design or fabrication such flux-cored welding for joining steel plates. Adopting this welding process has led to increased levels of productivity while improving fabrication quality and delivery lead times.

Meeting all delivery deadlines, manufacturing to stringent international specifications coupled with a business philosophy of honesty, integrity and transparency differentiates Belmet from other traditional companies.

Significant developments in quality and training

Belmet has revitalised their training centre with the aim of providing internal training for upskilling its own staff. 

“We know that the training of artisans is a big problem in our industry and we do not see the quality of youngsters coming into the system that we need, so we have decided to start at home,” says Kroon. 

A decision to move to DNV GL for ISO accreditation now sees the company accredited to ISO 9000 and ISO 18000 under the DNV GL systems. Kroon adds that they have also been accredited by DNV for the offshore pressure vessels that they will begin building in the next few months. 

Significantly too, they have achieved DNV accreditation for a Master Survey Arrangement (MSA) for their offshore baskets. Kroon explained that this means that they can now inspect the baskets internally without the need for visits from external auditors. 

The thrust into this high-tech fabrication sector has placed Belmet firmly in the international subsea fabrication arena and further growth opportunities within West Africa are being pursued.

Today ISO-listed Belmet is highly regarded within the oil, gas, diamond and mineral processing industries as a technically competent, progressive and hands-on fabrication company manufacturing to DNV, Lloyds, AWS, ASME, EUMUA and EN specifications. The list of international customers continues to grow as Belmet demonstrates ongoing and progressive technical capability within the West African Oil and Gas industry.

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