TheNavalArch’s Interview Series is an endeavor to get insights from the best engineering and business brains in the industry, and present them to its users for the larger benefit of the maritime community. Leaders share their experiences and ideas that readers can gain from. In this episode, TheNavalArch presents an interview with veteran Naval Architect Mr Balakrishna (Balu) Menon who specializes in Mooring Systems. Engineering Professional with around 37 years of experience in ship design and oil & gas industry involving design, execution at yard and management of offshore & marine engineering which includes a variety of sea going vessels, floating docks, drill ships, mooring & riser systems, hydrodynamic analyses, simulations and developing several turret designs for real time projects for sites across the globe.
When and how did you start with your career?
After graduating from technical school with a degree in Naval Architecture and Shipbuilding, I started as a trainee engineer with a small boat building yard in mid-1986. As a trainee, you would get attached to various departments other than the design office. Most of my time was spent on the yard machinery and outfitting section attending to tugs and deep-sea trawlers.
What was the motivation to get into this career?
I had always wanted to be trained in a technical school and grew up in a town which had the largest shipyard in India and was fascinated by the ships they floated out there. I was even more inspired when I was taken around for a tour of the yard to see their activities in heavy engineering. Also, a Naval Architect gets the opportunity to involve in several aspects of engineering as part of ship design.
What are the three specific areas that your expertise lies in?
Project engineering management with technical specialization in station keeping engineering, design of marine structures and turret mooring systems
What were the biggest learnings you have had so far over the years you have been in the offshore & maritime industry?
Micro-management and workplace toxicity within an establishment destroys creativity and innovation; these should be weeded out as it will eventually cause talent drain. Be a hands-on manager and develop skills in multiple discipline as these will reward with longevity in the industry. Try to identify and employ engineers with passion and the right attitude rather than just high academic achievements and grades.
What has been your most challenging and/or rewarding project or situation to date? Can you share a bit of detail about how you handled it?
I had just moved into this company as head of turret mooring department. Just as I was settling into the company, a new FPSO project at a harsh weather location was won and top management wanted to convert this opportunity as a milestone for the company with a 100% inhouse designed and engineered turret mooring system.
The challenge for us, a very lean team, was to quickly come up with a design that would work for the very complex site conditions, detail engineer the design to be practicable to execute as an EPC within the tight schedule, installation friendly and at the same time be commercially attractive. Though I had the trust of the CEO and immediate superiors there was lot of skepticism externally and internally on whether this can be achieved as a first timer.
Apart from the valuable experience I had gained by directly involving in a few turret design projects including a dis-connectable; my main strengths were trust in my team’s positive approach, their eagerness to go the extra mile to achieve this coveted goal and agility in getting things done with a roadmap set by their department head.
I have always motivated my team by stating that believing in oneself is half the war won. As a team we took up the goals set step by step, quick but careful decisions on action plans and achieved each one of them to the satisfaction of all stake holders and the turret was completed well ahead of planned schedule and waited for other works on the FPSO before she set sail for a very successful hookup and 1st oil thereafter. It was great combination of team spirit and passion guided by gray hair experience that helped us achieve this.
I also take this opportunity to mention that soon after the same team spirit and comradery went on to design, engineer and complete the company’s first external turret for a major oil and gas project, again well ahead of clients’ schedule and to date considered one of the largest of its class in the world.
What trends do you see in the offshore & maritime industry – which areas are the ones that are expected to grow, and which ones you see declining?
Marine floaters have been around for a very long time, be it shipping, oil & gas or renewables. With more focus on offshore wind generated power, floater-based hydrogen energy solutions making progress and other ocean hybrid systems in the making; such applications will continue to keep floaters in demand for decades to come. However, in my opinion the present oil & gas sector may see a shorter runway that will taper rapidly in the next decade.
What will be the one BIG change you would like to see in the offshore & maritime industry?
This process has to start right from when these aspirants start their technical education by means of effective internships, course project guidance, industrial attachments, sponsorships and growing under the right leadership. Present O&M market conditions are very much in favor of aspiring young talent due to the excellent synergy between the oil & gas and floating renewables markets. There is expected to be a supply chain crunch as several floaters especially renewables and accessories are required for deployment all around the world; these facilities and sources have to be strengthened as well – as part of the O&M industry.
What advice would you have for aspiring professionals who want to get into niche areas of naval architecture like mooring engineering?
There is a lot of scope and room for improvement in the design of renewable energy floaters with the expected varied applications to be at station for long term operations. Apart from renewables, there is lot of interest in autonomous shipping and use of smart sails to reduce carbon foot print. These are challenging and exciting areas for a budding naval architect. Technical schools should tweak their curriculum to include such niche areas and introduce these to young aspirants.Please register or login to read the full article
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