Houlder designers energised by offshore wind projects

Mike Simpson, Marine Design Consultancy Director explained to Wind Energy Network magazine (July/August issue) how our Ship Design teams have responded to opportunities presented by offshore wind projects.  

Designers Energised by Offshore Wind Projects 

The offshore wind sector directly challenges ship designers to innovate which is precisely why Houlder has enjoyed success recently says Mike Simpson, the company’s Marine Design Consultancy Director.  He continues “Stakeholders in offshore wind have a distinct set of fleet requirements complicated by environmental design constraints and capital and operational cost drivers. These have inspired our people to look for new solutions and this, combined with expertise gained through years of offshore innovation, means we are well placed to drive things forward.”


The company has provided maritime design and analysis, engineering and project development services as an independent consultancy for over thirty years. Today, it employs 150 naval architecture and engineering professionals in the UK and USA. Over the last five years in particular, Houlder has deployed its marine and oil & gas pedigree to support emerging markets. Progress has been good and Houlder was recently named one of the UK’s fastest growing companies by SMARTA’s Breakthrough50 initiative.

Multi-Disciplinary Teams

 Clients, be they the utilities, installation and maintenance contractors or vessel owners and operators, expect the full range of analysis and engineering from Houlder’s multidisciplinary teams.  These combine creativity and pragmatism to develop new concepts, aid decision making and validate project safety, performance and feasibility – all vital steps in planning future offshore energy infrastructure.

Proud History

Houlder can trace its history of marine innovation back over a century through The Houlder Brother’s Shipping Line. The company is also still well known for supporting North Sea Oil & Gas exploration in the 1970s and 80s. The current management team have decades of experience designing special purpose vessels, pipe and cable layers, offshore support ships, floating accommodation, passenger transport and construction vessels.  Houlder naval architects and marine engineers are experts in offshore operations and apply that knowledge as they develop vessels from concept through to detailed design. They also design, fabricate and mobilise new equipment; develop deck modifications; upgrade operational equipment and manage extensive conversion, life extension and change of use projects.  All of these are driven by the ever-increasing need for more capacity and improved capability.

Whatever the task, Houlder quickly gets to the detail and provides answers using a range tools and up to date software all underpinned by significant knowledge of Class Rules and industry regulation. All Houlder deliverables – design reports, calculations, drawings, graphics and animations – focus on giving clients the confidence to invest, build, operate and maintain vessels and equipment.

Windfarm Installation Vessels

Houlder gained a wealth of experience of turbine installation by developing the design of the Gaoh Offshore Deepwater Installer 1 vessel. The Jack up design was one of the first to address year round operations in mid North Sea locations with water depths of up to 50mts.  The Deepwater Installer answers the technical challenge of installing the most distant planned offshore wind farms by providing optimised storage and lifting capacity – the latter via a 1,600t crane.  The design was also optimised to minimise downtime in port. This ensures installation costs per turbine are minimised by balancing capacity, transit speeds and loading times.  Houlder developed the design and shipyard specification for the vessel and the lessons learned are currently being applied to other installation vessel projects. In particular, Houlder has developed expertise in deep water jacking operations including leg design and analysis for operation in up to 60m water depths.

Mike Simpson commented “Our current design and analysis projects are challenging assumptions about size, validating ingenious thinking and expanding operating envelopes. Optimising capacity and operability is the kind of work we thrive on.”

Floating Accommodation

As well as wind farm installation, the industry is rightly concerned with their long term operation and maintenance. As a result, Houlder has developed a novel, green accommodation mother ship that ensures technicians can be supported in field for as long as possible whilst complying with HSE and environmental regulations.  The Houlder mother ship is based on the company’s proven low-roll hull form and, with a single point mooring, takes advantage of “weather vaning” to keep wind and waves on the bow. The resulting sea keeping performance is therefore within operating limits for housing crew and workers in relative comfort. Recesses in the hull support work and crew transfer boats and a walk to walk system allows direct turbine access.  Having developed a generic concept that balances CAPEX and OPEX, the company is now in discussions with developers regarding their specific requirements moving forward.

Adapting Existing Vessels

New floating accommodation is not necessarily required. In 2012, P&O Ferries made its first major step into offshore energy by deploying the 23,000 tonne European Seaway freighter to house workers on the Lynn & Inner Dowsing wind farm array. Houlder’s work included the design of hull access doors, crane installations and boarding ladders which were installed during a short refit at the Arno shipyard in Dunkerque, France. Some of the vessel’s cabin accommodation was also upgraded and offices for the charterers’ managers were constructed on board.

Integration Design & Engineering

This project utilised Houlder’s expertise at integration design and engineering. The Offshore Wind sector’s requirement for a flexible approach to installing and mobilising equipment sits well within the team’s capability. Mike explains “Houlder also supplies handling, lifting and flex-lay equipment, which means we know how to go about installing it. Clients often come to us as a one stop shop, particularly when equipment is non-standard and setting to work requires some lateral thinking.”

Houlder’s preference for challenging design work that stretches its people and delivers a genuine step-change in capability is a key reason it has secured its place in the offshore wind supply chain.  Mike Simpson concludes “Houlder has been inspired by the opportunities the industry gives us to use our corporate brain power and develop new ideas. Offshore wind projects are an exciting business to be in and we look forward to seeing where it takes us.”



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