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Diversifying business to venture onto new shores: Energy solutions provider NauticAWT

(Above) NauticAWT CEO, Mr Gronbech. (Left) NauticAWT's chief scientist Chia Kok Seng (front) and chief operating officer Elo Yde with a grout cube specimen.
NauticAWT's chief scientist Chia Kok Seng (front) and chief operating officer Elo Yde with a grout cube specimen.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
(Above) NauticAWT CEO, Mr Gronbech. (Left) NauticAWT's chief scientist Chia Kok Seng (front) and chief operating officer Elo Yde with a grout cube specimen.
NauticAWT CEO, Mr Gronbech.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Striking a good balance between focus and diversification turned out to be a strategy that served NauticAWT well. Fiona Liaw learns how the company took the bold step of venturing out of its comfort zone in oil and gas and into the renewable energy sector.

It may seem strange for an oil and gas business to venture into the wind sector, but the boss of energy solutions provider NauticAWT believes that companies need to diversify beyond one core product in order to thrive.

Chief executive John Gronbech noted that as all firms must endure business cycles, it is important to strike a balance between maintaining its core focus and having a diversified array of products and markets.

NauticAWT was established in 2011 with the goal of serving the upstream segment of the oil and gas industry. Singapore was the ideal base because of its state-of-the-art infrastructure, prime location, good banking system and abundance of engineering talent.

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These factors enabled NauticAWT to grow quickly. Although the firm began by providing subsea services, it swiftly expanded its repertoire to include site-life extension and subsurface work.

To complement these services, the firm opened a manufacturing plant at Johor Baru, focusing on proprietary materials like ultra-high performance cementitious (UHPC) and ultra-lightweight cement composite grouts.

By the end of last year, NauticAWT had acquired Marine Engineering Services, giving the firm the bandwidth to provide the full range of engineering and contracting services for subsea, subsurface and surface facilities in the oil and gas industry. Its reach also grew to 12 offices across South-east Asia, Australasia, India, the Middle East and Latin America.

Instead of resting on his laurels, Mr Gronbech wanted to take the company further - into the market for wind energy. That had always been one of NauticAWT's aspirations, but it had not had the capacity to do so while it was rapidly growing its oil and gas capabilities.

"You really have to manage your resources and capabilities in this process," Mr Gronbech said. He added that firms need to determine if they have the capacity to take on the entire market, or if they will only enter from selected avenues.

In NauticAWT's case, the decision was made to focus on the supply of materials for the onshore wind sector, rather than set up a distribution network for wind turbines.

As the market for wind energy uses similar techniques, set-up and materials as the oil and gas industry, NauticAWT would have the relevant expertise to break into the market this way without diluting its core focus.

But with the wind energy market dominated by major players in Europe, two key challenges arose.

 
 
 

NauticAWT had to ensure that its materials remained cost-competitive after being shipped across the world, and it had to be able to prove its manufacturing plant could fulfil the stringent criteria needed for certification. Crossing these barriers - especially the cost of comprehensive tests to achieve the certification - was a huge obstacle, but NauticAWT managed to succeed with the help of IE Singapore, Mr Gronbech said.

He explained that the agency's funding was crucial in helping the firm afford the necessary testing. NauticAWT obtained the MPA Bau Hannover certification in around a year, qualifying it to supply materials to the onshore wind energy market.

Today, NauticAWT supplies advanced grouting materials to global energy company Vestas, and the organisation has agreed to use NauticAWT's materials for future wind turbine installations.

Mr Gronbech is also grateful for IE Singapore's broad international network, which has helped NauticAWT gain important connections in Latin America and Europe.

"Without IE Singapore, we probably would have pushed it all back a little. They are dynamic, energetic and good at seeing opportunities. They made the route much faster," he said.

Now that NauticAWT has gained a foothold in the onshore wind market, Mr Gronbech is excited to bring the firm into the more challenging and competitive offshore wind market as well - with IE Singapore's support and encouragement each step of the way.


Find out more about other companies that have transformed their business overseas and how IE can help – http://www.iesingapore.gov.sg/Assistance

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline 'Diversifying business to venture onto new shores'. Print Edition | Subscribe