Hydramec – Leading the Way

Hydramec have provided a steady stream of customer-led innovation, but when the oil crash hit, the company went its own way.

Hydramec started as a “one-man-band” back in 1990, founded by Peter Church. Peter Church had worked in the oil industry for over a decade. Talking with his contracts in the industry he saw an opportunity to start a service company doing maintenance and repair. His son, Danny Church, would join the company two years later as an apprentice.

“In 1994 one of our good customers ended up taking over a company in Aberdeen and contacted my father to see if he was interested in building a new launch and recovery system,” Danny Church, now CEO of Hydramec, tells us. “We needed more people to assist with the builds and from then have been growing and developing our products for the offshore wind farm and military businesses.”

Hydramec’s equipment stands out because it has been built to be quick to mobilise. Everything is self-contained in one package that can be lifted onto a vessel or rig, welded down and plugged in. All this happens within 12 to 14 hours.

When we speak with Church, it is a special time for Hydramec, as the company celebrates its 30th anniversary.

“Technically it was last year and we were going to do a big celebration- hire a venue for a birthday party etc. Covid put a swift end to that but we’ve done a few advertising spreads and promotions about the last 30 years, showing off some of the older equipment,” Church says.

People-Powered Automation

It is also an ideal time to reflect on how the industry has changed.

“Everyone is looking for greener energy and solutions, so we’re adapting to what clients want,” Church says. “The market can be challenging. In 2015 oil prices crashed literally overnight. A lot of businesses shut down their plans. We had to almost reinvent ourselves, which is where a lot of companies began talking about autonomy, vessels without crew, driving down numbers of personnel.”

The new market is one that Hydramec has lost no time in entering.

“We responded by starting work with our partner Scantrol AS, who do a lot of control systems for us. We’re at the early stages of that,” Church acknowledges. “We’ve developed systems that can be operated from the beach or using AI. We have the equipment available to insert learning protocols into the system to make Launch and Recovery a push-button operation.”

The research and development necessary to create these systems are driven by the needs of the client. Hydramec is well placed as a company and clients frequently come to them for solutions.

“They say what they need to do and we go away and have a think and talk and look at ideas,” Church says. “For instance, one of my clients is looking at how to launch a particular spread for a very small ship and it’s a whiteboard situation. We are trying to come up with ideas and then working on the engineering and making it happen, including lots of meeting with the client to discuss and find out what they think and get feedback. Sometimes there’s no feedback and they leave it to us; some want to be a hands-on part of the operation.”

In developing these solutions, Church is in no doubt about what has fuelled Hydramec’s success.

“Although I have worked here the longest, Hydramec’s growth wouldn’t be possible without the team behind me,” Church insists. “These are people who’ve bought into our vision and hard work ethic and they naturally want to see Hydramec succeed. We are getting to the point of having a bigger business mentality but still with that family mentality. You want to see it succeed like you would people you know personally.”

Finding those people is half of the battle. Hydramec advertises open positions. But it also takes on board a lot of apprentices and young people who it can mould into the Hydramec way of working while supplying them with a wealth of training courses.

“On the design side of things a lot of people have design experience but what we do is very niche so it comes down to the interview process to gauge whether someone has that spark in their eye,” Church confides. “They need to want to develop systems that can be completely bespoke and be able to engage in that thinking process.”

Beyond training and professional development, Hydramec is a company that prioritises taking care of its people.

“We don’t have a high turnover from an operational point of view,” Church says. “I’m flexible for employees with children, with the pandemic, people who need time off to share childcare and stuff like that, which makes it a nice and relaxed place to work.”

Guiding the Market

The oil crash had a huge impact on the market, and it hit at the worst possible time for Hydramec, as the company had just bought a brand-new facility when it hit.

“I bought this place in 2014, literally right before the massive oil crash. But the decision to purchase the facility was customer-driven,” Church recalls. “They could see things taking off and wanted to know how we would have the capabilities to help them. Then the oil crash came and work dried up quickly.”

In these difficult circumstances, Hydramec decided it was time to chart their own course.

“We turned to what we knew of the market, rather than what customers told us, developing products we knew they were going to need,” Church tells us. “I knew new equipment wouldn’t necessarily be the way forwards, so we began looking at retro technology and old equipment to bring in revenue.”

For the last 30 years Hydramec has built up a wealth of knowledge and experience, and in the face of the oil crash, it saw the opportunity to put it to use.

“We’ve developed a good understanding of the way markets are going to go over the next few years and now we want to be at the forefront of newer technologies and greener energy,” Church says. “We’re changing from hydraulic controls to electric operations and have the ability to regenerate electricity back into the grids on the vessels.”

It is a bold new vision for Hydramec’s future.

“That’s where I want Hydramec to be,” Church says.

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