Mykolaiv may not currently be building many ocean-going vessels, but the city remains at the center of the global shipping industry and a source of highly prized engineering expertise. One company to have seized on the opportunities presented by the southern Ukrainian port city’s nautical talent base is Marine Design Engineering Mykolayiv (MDEM), a multiservice engineering company that provides a range of ship design and engineering, research, marketing, IT and communications services for Dutch-based global shipbuilding giant Damen Shipyards Group.
The relationship between MDEM and Damen dates back more than a decade, beginning during the Dutch company’s ownership of Mykolaiv’s Okean shipyard. Despite deciding to end its shipbuilding operations in Ukraine, Damen officials remained committed to capitalizing on the successful cooperation it had established with the city’s large pool of ship design and engineering specialists. Over the past ten years, MDEM operations have grown in scale from an initial staff of five engineers to a current team numbering in excess of 150, while the range of services provided has expanded accordingly.
On the eve of the recent MDEM tenth anniversary, Damen Shiyards Group Chairman Kommer Damen offered an encouraging appraisal that highlighted the increasingly prominent role the Mykolaiv partnership is playing in the Group’s global operations. “The idea of having an engineering and design service center in Ukraine was a good one and remains good because of the highly skilled and hardworking people available here and a relationship which is not just based on costs but also on intellectual capacity.”
Mr. Damen also stressed the importance for MDEM of continued expansion and raised the prospect of further integration with the Group’s global interests. “For us it is important that MDEM continues to grow and to take on new people. It is also crucial to keep up with technological developments throughout the industry. This could mean personnel exchanges with other shipyards within Damen Shipyards Group. But in principle, we are committed to remaining in Mykolaiv and growing here because it is a very efficient relationship for our whole group.”
The MDEM experience offers insight into the possibilities for Ukraine as the country looks to make the most of its world-class intellectual capital while boosting the domestic economy and creating the conditions for Ukrainians to build their futures at home rather that looking abroad. Business Ukraine spoke to MDEM Managing Director Olena Zhukova about her vision for sharing Mykolaiv’s shipbuilding knowhow with global partners, and asked her how she sees the engineering outsourcing industry developing in the coming years.
How has the concept behind MDEM evolved since the company was founded?
In 2006 Marine Design started engineering activities in Ukraine when a small group of engineers was contracted by Spanish company ATN for a Seismic Research vessel. The first project for Damen – aluminium monohull fast ferry DFF8415 – was granted as a vote of confidence in our potential. During its execution, about 20 skilled engineers joined MDEM and, inspired by the results of the first project, the team willingly adopted new design approaches. We quickly grew to 60 specialists and started to explore other fields of cooperation with Damen. This period was marked by the expansion of MDEM’s client portfolio and diversification of its services. Besides basic and detailed engineering, MDEM became involved in R&D projects, finite elements analysis of strength and dynamics for maritime and offshore structures, in relevant modeling and simulation, workflow and application development.
As the quality of cooperation continued to improve, MDEM joined the Damen family in 2010. Following further integration into corporate systems, our digital departments started to provide services in maintenance standards and part catalogues, to support central IT&IM in maintenance infrastructure and applications, and to participate in on-line and off-line market communication, thus developing remote capacity for Damen virtual teams.
Where do you recruit your team and how are they able to keep abreast of the latest developments in the international shipbuilding industry?
We are always glad to welcome highly qualified specialists with deep knowledge and an innovative approach. However, a major part of our HR strategy is to provide opportunities to young people. We cooperate closely with Mykolaiv National University of Shipbuilding. The best graduates join the MDEM family where they attend special training programmes, receive coaching from our senior specialists and project managers, and enjoy the possibility to work with our Damen colleagues abroad as part of project teams.
MDEM helps to keep Mykolaiv at the cutting edge of the international shipbuilding industry. How does MDEM benefit from the city’s rich shipbuilding heritage?
Despite the current state of shipbuilding in the Mykolaiv region, the existing traditions, knowledge, and continuity of generations still boost interest in the industry and engineering activities in particular. Needless to say, the National University of Shipbuilding is and will always be the wellspring of maritime spirit and enthusiastic graduates. Attending international specialised conferences, visiting yards abroad, and keeping contacts with equipment suppliers and solution providers allow us to stay up-to-date with technological trends. We encourage knowledge sharing and networking with engineering partners, international professional societies and the local shipbuilding community.
Based of the MDEM experience of providing engineering services to a global shipbuilding industry leader, do you think this sector of the knowledge industry could develop further in Mykolaiv?
The knowledge and the positive experience gained in cooperation with Damen let us speak with confidence that our business model can be successfully replicated to the benefit of the city and new investors who come to Ukraine. Our best practices in innovation outsourcing can serve as a useful tool to boost the export of knowledge intensive services and we cherish the hope that Mykolaiv’s professional community will further evolve. We strive to support the next generation in expanding their expertise, enabling them to undertake more challenging projects and to develop innovative solutions. In the meantime, we are working on the growth strategy for our own capacity and further diversification of our intellectual digital products and services portfolio.
You currently provide engineering and communications services for Damen colleagues around the world. What kind of challenges have you faced in finding a common language between the MDEM team and your international colleagues?
At the very beginning of our collaboration we sometimes faced difficulties in understanding the way of thinking of our Dutch colleagues. However, we learned to recognize cultural differences. With a professional approach and broad communications we quickly gained synergy in working together. Nowadays we may have challenging discussions from time to time, but only in our strive for excellence!
What are your development plans for the coming years?
In response to this question, I would like to appeal to the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius! Following this principle we can bring our bravest dreams and unbelievable projects into reality in our beloved city!
About the interviewee: Olena Zhukova is the Managing Director of Marine Design Engineering Mykolayiv