Blowing in the wind

Posted on 8 Oct 2009 by The Manufacturer

TM assistant editor Edward Machin meets JDR Cable Systems’ managing director, Patrick Phelan, to discuss the company’s rapid ascent into best in class manufacturing of subsea cables for the offshore renewable sector.

Established in 1966, JDR Cable Systems design and manufacture custom engineered cable and umbilical systems for a range of subsea infrastructures.

Originally producing hoses and cables for the offshore diving industry, the company’s portfolio now includes the production of subsea power cables for the oil and gas sectors; marine seismic data acquisition cables and umbilicals; sub sea production umbilicals; workover control system umbilical reeler packages and tactical sonar array cable systems.

Moreover, JDR has leveraged its considerable success in oil and gas — built on the back of the first North Sea boom — to adjacent markets, namely the burgeoning offshore renewable sector. Indeed, says managing director Patrick Phelan: “JDR is especially proud of the fact that in recent years the company has developed into a leading supplier of subsea power cables for flagship renewable energy projects.”

The genesis of JDR’s entry into the offshore renewable sector began in 2004, with the implementation of a company divergence strategy recognising that much of the burden for future global energy production lay in renewable means. Nonetheless, says Phelan: “We are one of the very few British companies to have both invested heavily in renewables and taken a major role in the industry, due to the fact that the supply chain is largely located in mainland Europe.”

Such prescience soon paid dividends, however, with JDR winning the prestigious Beatrice Wind Farm Demonstrator contract to design, manufacture, and test the composite subsea power cables required to bring the power generated from two offshore wind turbines back to a pre-existing oil and gas production platform. “Naturally we were delighted with our involvement in a project pioneering the development of deepwater windfarms, especially given JDR’s relatively recent entry into the renewables market,” says Phelan.

Equally, it presented the company with a platform from which to tender for the inter-turbine array cables for the world’s largest offshore wind farm, which JDR was ultimately successful in winning in 2008. Located 23km off the Suffolk coast, the Greater Gabbard project is the first UK offshore wind farm to be built outside of territorial waters, using 140 wind turbines to generate over 500 megawatts of renewable energy.

Says Phelan: “Our remit is to supply the project’s inter-array subsea power cables and associated terminations, over 200km in total, thus providing the critical link between the 3.6MW turbine generators and the Gabbard and Galloper offshore substations. With the Greater Gabbard project due to be completed in 2011, JDR supplied phase one from our facility in Littleport, Cambridgshire, with phase two currently being produced at our deepwater quayside manufacturing facility in Hartlepool.” Opened in July 2009, the purpose-built, 100,000 sq foot facility is the only site in the UK designed specifically to manufacture subsea power cables for both the oil and gas and offshore renewable energy markets.

Having diversified with considerable success into sectors beyond its original incarnation, JDR’s thirty five years expertise in the oil and gas industries continues to win it the most illustrious of marine cable contracts. In July 2009, the company was selected as lead contractor for the supply of sub sea power cables to the world’s first large scale wave project, Wave Hub, located off the Cornwall coast. Jointly funded by the South West RDA and the Department of Trade and Industry, the hub will create an electrical ‘socket’ on the seabed, allowing energy development companies to trial up to four systems at any one time in a location with proven wave energy.

Summarises Phelan: “That JDR regularly wins contracts of such magnitude is testament to our unrivalled experience in designing world class offshore oil and gas subsea cable systems. Coupled with our cable handling, protection, installation aids, and termination engineering capabilities, the company is unique in the sector in that we combine considerable expertise in the manufacture of both subsea power cables and umbilicals, renewable or otherwise.”

Centres of excellence
JDR delineates its operations and engineering teams into two distinct brands; Umbilical Systems and Subsea Power Cables. Each unit comprises research and development, pre-order system development, and post-order design teams. Says Phelan: “Such a structure allows JDR to retain our focus on developing ever more sophisticated products while concurrently working with customers across each stage of the manufacture, implementation, and design life processes.” Manufacturing of these products is carried out at three sites – Littleport for products up to 100 tonnes, Hartlepool up to 2,200 tonnes, and for the Asia Pacific market the company has a quayside factory in Thailand producing umbilicals up to 300 tonnes.

He continues: “Each site has its own general manager, manufacturing manager, and safety & quality manager.

The facilities thus retain a considerable degree of both autonomy and local ownership over quality and delivery costs.” Moreover, as individual centres of excellence, JDR undertakes the majority of its staff development training in-house within a detailed framework of internal accreditation.

An emphasis on world class training is, says Phelan, recognition that JDR’s operational standards, product quality, and lifespan reliability are paramount, given the highly testing environments in which its devices are placed. Indeed, a culture of fastidious benchmarking and quality control has remained central to the company since its inception. He explains: “Because JDR initially provided umbilicals to the diving industry, we are only too aware that human life can be dependent on the precision and reliability of our products. Equally, the margin for error in manufacturing power cables and related infrastructure to be positioned up to 2000m below the surface for a period of 25 years is non-existent.”

Moreover, while the benefits of renewable energy are substantial, wind power must be generated in the most cost efficient manner possible. Says Phelan: “Central to the renewables market is a dependence on minimising capital costs and optimising long term reliability, such that maintenance expenditure is reduced.”

Accordingly, JDR transposes the best practices which have seen the company succeed in the oil and gas markets to its work in offshore renewables, thus greatly reducing installation costs. An offshore windfarm may have 150 turbines, requiring a total of 300 cables ends. Traditionally an end could take up to a day to install, whereas JDR’s purpose designed termination system enables this to be done within two hours, thus reducing installation time by a factor of ten. Coupled with the company’s unparalleled heritage, that it significantly minimises installation cycles is, says Phelan: “One of the reasons why JDR continues to win contracts for the most pioneering renewables market projects.”

Central to JDR’s capacity to work to world class turnaround times is an organisational embracing of lean operations. The company began its lean journey in 2007, enabled by support from the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS). Says Phelan: “Phase one of JDR’s journey was largely focused on 5S, which has since been fully implemented. However, we identified that 5S would not maximise the considerable benefits of a lean culture if working in isolation. Phase two thus concerns the optimisation of our information management systems, particularly with regard to the company’s integrated ERP system – Visual Manufacturing.”

The company has also acquired the PROQUIS software solution to further refine its quality and reliability management; document charting; workflow; and continuous improvement processes. “The system allows efficient management of all workflow within the organisation so that revision, project change, and manufacturing procedure control can be carried out across our global operations.” says Phelan. “Taken together, such advancements will enable JDR Cable Systems to continue supplying subsea cables, umbilicals, and related products for the most celebrated offshore projects, renewables and otherwise.”