Babcock turns to Kongsberg Maritime for Type 31 programme

Steady as she goes

A long-term relationship – and competitive edge – sees the shipbuilder work with its near neighbour to provide stabilisers for new Royal Navy frigates

Creating a safe and secure world, together - is Babcock’s purpose, the international defence company that was awarded the design and build contract for the Royal Navy’s new Type 31 frigate.

The management team at Babcock’s Rosyth facility in Scotland, has turned to near neighbours Kongsberg Maritime to provide a crucial component – the stabilisers for the new warships. They have made this decision based on the security provided by a long-term relationship and the ingenuity and adaptability of the Kongsberg Maritime team, who have developed a retractable-fin stabiliser design, unique among naval ships.

Sean Donaldson, Babcock’s Managing Director, Rosyth, says: “If you want to build a steady and reliable ship you need steady and reliable partners. Among other programmes, we’ve worked with Kongsberg Maritime at Dunfermline to deliver support to the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier programme which was a positive experience. 

“Type 31 is an important five-ship programme for us. Accordingly, we went through a competitive process with the supply chain and selected people who we could trust and were established in the market; KONGSBERG fits the profile of the type of companies we want to work with.”

If you want to build a steady and reliable ship you need steady and reliable partners.
Sean Donaldson

Patrick Carnie, Babcock’s Strategy Director, Rosyth adds: “Kongsberg Maritime was selected on a commercial basis and because it is an internationally competitive company. At the same time, we’re interested in how, from a regional prosperity and social value perspective, we can work with firms in and around this area. The Kongsberg Maritime base is 15 minutes away from our own facilities by road, we have potential to jointly support our maritime customers and proximity means we can share transport connections.  As we work in similar industries, it makes sense to be connected.

“We have discussed areas of mutual interest such as recruitment, training and so on. We believe we can work together to help tie Kongsberg Maritime into the UK shipbuilding skills task force and national shipbuilding strategy.”

"Kongsberg Maritime was selected on a commercial basis and because it is an internationally competitive company."

Longevity and stability

Sean explained that in assessing suppliers Babcock considers a wide range of factors, including a company’s longevity and stability. “On a recent visit to Kongsberg Maritime we saw components originally produced 30 years ago returning for maintenance and repair. That tells me Kongsberg Maritime fosters enduring relationships with its clients”.

“What’s more, the ships we’re delivering for the Royal Navy will occasionally take people into difficult situations, operating on behalf of the UK Government. We must make sure everything on board is of a high standard and can deliver when required. Stabilisers are a key component, since the ships are also designed to operate in a blue water environment and challenging weather conditions.”

The Type 31 programme requires suppliers who can perform over the long term. Patrick says: “Our contract will last for many years, and we’re looking to do further contracts beyond that for shipbuilding. We have already secured the 10-year contract for aircraft carrier dockings. Since those carriers have been fitted with Kongsberg Maritime equipment and will dock locally, having suppliers close by makes working together much easier.

“In addition, on our visit to their Dunfermline base I was reassured by the breadth of international customers having equipment produced or maintained, from the UK to Australia, and from the United States to south-east Asia. Clearly, KONGSBERG has a global presence.”

The Babcock team is pleased with the programme’s progress so far, with two stabiliser sets delivered. “In terms of the ship build, we’re currently looking to integrate two of the large blocks that span where the stabiliser is fitted in ship one. So, preparation work is under way to fit the first stabiliser. Very soon, the local Kongsberg Maritime team can visit our site and see it happening.”

Being part of KONGSBERG means we can offer customers a full portfolio of products and services.
Martin Cunningham

Special moment

For Martin Cunningham, Senior Vice President and Managing Director at Kongsberg Maritime in Dunfermline, the actualisation of the project, which has gone from design to procurement and shop floor, represents a special moment. Martin says “First and foremost, the overall programme is a continuation of our relationship with Babcock and that is really pleasing. It’s also a further demonstration of our pedigree in the naval market, where the retractable-fin solution we have come up with is truly pioneering. The team we have across all of our functions from design through to services is made up of very talented individuals.”

 Martin believes Type 31 provides excellent export potential. “The UK has committed to building five ships and Babcock has secured orders for their export variant (Arrowhead 140) in Indonesia and Poland with interest in the Arrowhead 140 high internationally. There’s no doubt it will provide opportunities for us to reinforce and expand our links across the world.

 “Indeed, we’ve noticed that the naval market has been enjoying a purple patch recently. Among others, we’ve been supplying navies in France, Canada, Australia and Turkmenistan. Meanwhile, the commercial market, made up of cruise ships and sea transport, is also gathering pace, with a notable flurry of aftermarket upgrade projects and other developments.”

Martin believes Kongsberg Maritime’s singular ability to provide a wide range of marine equipment globally is a unique selling point. “Being part of KONGSBERG means we can offer customers a full portfolio of products and services. Plus, we’re the only stabiliser manufacturer in the UK. That’s important, especially given the UK shipbuilding strategy.”

 In terms of overall business strategy, the Dunfermline base is increasing its focus on R&D. “That’s really positive,” says Martin. “We are putting a great deal of emphasis on sustainability. This is a priority for KONGSBERG as a group and we will be exploring areas such as electrification and moving away from the use of oils and other lubricants that are not environmentally friendly.

 “Overall, since our site in Dunfermline became part of Kongsberg Maritime in 2018, there has been investment in apprentices, graduates and engineering. We’re resourced properly and have the right people in the right functions. We have a healthy order book but there are still contracts to be won. With Type 31 and other contracts the future looks steady and secure.”

Team’s unique system achieves a naval first

The Kongsberg Maritime team delivering the stabilisers for Type 31 has faced several challenges, not least the need to develop a unique additional hydraulic system never previously fitted to a naval vessel.

Andrew Leicester, Mechanical Design Engineer, explains: “Since Type 31 is based on a mature ship design but, unusually, requires a retractable fin we’ve had to put our heads together to find a solution. We’ve achieved this by working hand in hand with Babcock to come up with something that meets their needs. Our relationship all along has been excellent.

“Finalising the hydraulic design was the culmination of a lot of hard work.”

“Finalising the hydraulic design was the culmination of a lot of hard work. Once that was achieved, another highlight for me was the factory acceptance test where we saw the stabiliser operation ‘in the flesh’ for the first time.”

Andy Scott, Engineering Team lead, was involved in the project at the bid stage. He says: “One of our tasks with the hydraulic system was to give the ship the capability to retract the fins when there’s no power on board. Previously, we’ve been able to manoeuvre non-retractable fins into a central position without power. But this is the first time we’ve achieved it with a retractable stabiliser.

“It’s been a good learning experience and we could certainly use this design in future platforms.”

“It’s been a good learning experience and we could certainly use this design in future platforms.”

With the testing process complete, two ship sets are being delivered to Babcock. “We'll be on hand to give support to service during commissioning, sea trials and thereafter,” says Andy.

“Meanwhile, I’m particularly pleased about the local aspect of this programme. It was a big boost for the area when we heard Babcock had secured the Type 31 project. And we are delighted that Kongsberg Maritime was selected to provide the stabilisers. It’s good to know that we’re helping to add to the engineering expertise in this part of Scotland.”

Programme provides opportunity to develop young talent

The Type 31 programme and other projects provide the opportunity for Kongsberg Maritime in Dunfermline to continue its policy of developing young talent.

Kian Loy (21) is an Apprentice Mechanical Fitter who has been with the firm for four years. He says: “I’ve had the chance to gain experience on several projects, but I’ve mostly been working on the stabiliser system for Type 31.”

Kian came to Kongsberg Maritime after leaving high school and says it’s the type of job he always wanted. “One big challenge has been coming straight from school and being thrown into a demanding environment. You learn new things every day; each product has its own requirements and there are specific policies we need to follow. But it’s fun and I enjoy it.”

Fortunately, he works with skilled and considerate colleagues. He says: “The team is fantastic. They’re calm, patient and always ready to give help when I need it. As time’s gone on, I’ve been able to work more independently.”

Studying toward a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in mechanical engineering, Kian’s apprenticeship will be completed in 2023.

He concludes: “I particularly enjoy the main builds. It’s great to leave at the end of the working day feeling that you’ve accomplished something. I like the company, the work and the people and, ultimately, I’m keen to build a career here.”

“The team is fantastic. They’re calm, patient and always ready to give help when I need it.”