Great Lift, Great Leap - Yantai Raffles

-- FROM THE FULL PICTURE MAGAZINE -- Competing heavily with Singapore's and Korea's yard giants on offshore contracts today, Yantai Raffles is already preparing for a future when other Chinese yards are the major competition. And it is aiming to surpass them all.

It's the kind of toy many yard directors probably dream about: A super crane capable of lifting the weight of countless hopes, as much as millions of men. The Yantai Raffles shipyard in Shandong Province, China unveiled "Taisun" – its super crane – late last year after a year of construction.

The crane, which can lift 20,000 tons up to 70 meters high, is only one of a number of pieces of infrastructure that Yantai Raffles believes will put it on a different footing compared to its rivals in shipbuilding in Asia. These investments include a deepwater port, a massive dry-dock, advanced CAD design tools and tight relationships with key vendors.

"In the offshore business, in the short term, we're competing with Singapore and Korea. Though we have a price and process advantage, we lack the same experience. As we gain experience, we'll see more competition from China, but here we will have an advantage due to our infrastructure investments and experience," said Yantai Raffles' founder and Executive Chairman Brian Chang to Full Picture magazine.

Saving millions

The millions to be saved are not lives, but man-hours, and thus dollars as well. With Taisun, Yantai Raffles can build a semi-submersible's pontoons and platform with topsides at the same time at ground level, and then simply lift the one on top of the other. The same principle applies to the construction of FPSO hull and topsides.

"The question we wanted to answer was this: How do you significantly reduce the cost of building these kinds of offshore structures. Taisun is the answer. Because we can build these sections at ground level, we get a tremendous advantage in terms of safety, quality and cost," said Brian Chang's brother, Julian Chang – Yantai Raffles' Group Executive Director. He estimates that the crane will save 2 million man-hours in construction of one semi-submersible drilling rig.

Brian Chang estimates that – should any other Chinese shipyard choose to stake out a similar course – Yantai Raffles has at least a three to four year advantage in infrastructure investments. He states that Yantai Raffles presents a compelling case for any operator looking to build large steel structures and large topsides – anything that can benefit from a good-sized dry-dock and a massive crane, in fact.

The yard has had success winning orders for a series of DP2 and DP3 semi-submersible drilling rigs, FPSO and FSO orders and a wide variety of offshore support vessels and construction vessels. Among the yard's most noteworthy builds so far was the world's first round FPSO, Piranema, for Sevan Marine. Frigstad Offshore and Awilco Offshore have also both chosen Yantai Raffles to build sophisticated drilling rigs.

Smarter construction, partnering

Julian Chang points out that Yantai Raffles has invested in software systems unique to commercial shipyards. Developed and adapted for Yantai Raffles in conjunction with IBM and Dassault Systems, the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Shipbuilding Solutions have only previously been used at naval shipyards.

"We've invested a lot in this system. We sit together with the client in the design phase and ensure we're looking at and thinking of the same thing. For this reason, we have really minimised change orders at Yantai Raffles," he said. One builder of a yacht carrier wanted, for example, to add a swimming pool to the design, and this was accommodated relatively painlessly.

Both brothers describe how close relationship with key technology vendors plays into the yard's long-term strategy. For the time being, Kongsberg Maritime has a half-dozen different projects ongoing at the Yantai Raffles shipyard, including a massive semi-submersible drilling rig for Frigstad Offshore, a series of rigs for Awilco Offshore and an assortment of other vessels.

"We believe that it is important to have a long-term approach to our key vendors. The projects that we are doing are complex. By working with a familiar vendor, it makes everything, including commissioning, more efficient. And, for Kongsberg, it's more convenient to focus on many deliveries at fewer yards," said Brian Chang.


Yantai Raffles seeks to position itself ahead of national rivals in China, and competitors throughout Asia, by combining sophisticated shipbuilding techniques with China's low costs.


This massive crane can lift up to 20,000 mt to 70 meters, meaning it can lift an entire deck box of a semi-submersible rig onto its pontoons. This exercise saves countless man-hours, while increasing safety and quality.

Pedestal crane

The yard's revolving pedestal crane can lift 2,000 metric tons with a 30 meter reach up to 95 meters high.

2 x 370 ton gantry cranes

Straddling the yard's assembly and fabrication areas, these two cranes are Yantai Raffles' workhorses in the construction of blocks and sections.

Automated warehouse

The fully-automated warehouse allows one man to manage 4,000 pallets of equipment and supplies.

Covered dry-dock

This 205 by 45 meter dry-dock allows construction of offshore support vessels year round.

Material Preparation Centre

Four CNC plasma cutters and electromagnetic gantry cranes means the yard can produce 100,000 metric tons of steel per year.

Deepwater port

Yantai Raffles is dredging its port to a depth of 18 meters, to allow installation and pre-testing of thrusters in the yard.