Neopolia Marine is reshaping industrial subcontracting in French shipbuilding and Neopolia, the parent network comprising five such clusters, is spreading the good news.
In just two years, Neopolia Marine, has made its mark as a key player in the French shipbuilding industry. Neopolia Marine is not a company, but a ‘business cluster’, an innovative collaborative structure of the Neopolia network. The concept was first put forward in 1999 when subcontractors working for the STX France shipyard in Saint-Nazaire felt they needed to broaden their horizons. The aim at the time was to seek new business to minimise workload ups and downs due to the cyclical nature of shipbuilding, including the downturn they were then experiencing.
The concept has since been expanded to other industrial sectors and to the entire Pays de la Loire region centred on Saint-Nazaire and Nantes on the Loire estuary on France’s Atlantic coast. In addition to playing a large role in the maritime sector, with contractors like STX France, DCNS and Bénéteau, the region is a key player in the country’s aerospace and transport sectors thanks to companies like Airbus, Total and Engie (formerly GDF Suez). The regional industrial fabric also boasts a strong network of specialist service providers, design bureaux and research centres as well as engineering schools, universities and other tertiary education institutions.
(© NEOPOLIA - BERNARD BIGER)
230 companies, five clusters
This rich industrial fabric proved a remarkable springboard for Neopolia. Today, the network brings together 230 companies forming five business clusters: Aerospace, Rail, MRE (or marine renewable energy), Marine, and Oil & Gas.
Neopolia Marine comprises 56 companies active in the maritime and shipbuilding sectors that now share resources and know-how. The cluster’s collaborative approach to design and production focuses on innovation and winning new business. “The idea was to work together so we could take on complex projects jointly. In 2012 we joined STX France in responding to a call for tenders issued by Viking River Cruises to build river cruise vessels in Saint-Nazaire. Although we failed to win the contract, it encouraged us to pursue the concept. Later, when CroisiEurope came to us, we were in a position to bid,” says Hervé Germain, co-CEO of the Myg Design group and First Vice-President of Neopolia.
The Loire Princesse which entered commercial service in 2015 (© Neopolia - Bernard Biger)
River cruise vessels for CroisiEurope
In 2014, shortly after discovering that companies working for the Saint-Nazaire shipyards could apply their skills to river cruise vessels, French cruise operator CroisiEurope entrusted a group of them with its first project. In the spring of 2015, the 48-cabin, 88.8-metre-long Loire Princesse took its first passengers on a Loire cruise. Neopolia Marine then won the contract to build the 40-cabin, 95-metre Elbe Princesse. Both vessels feature state-of-the-art paddlewheel propulsion.
Elbe Princesse, delivered in Q2 2016, spent its inaugural season cruising between Berlin and Prague. Paddlewheel propulsion enables the boat to operate in very shallow water. Indeed, the very low level of the Elbe and Vltava rivers last European summer meant that the Elbe Princesse was able to keep cruising all summer long while CroisiEurope’s competitors had to lay up.
Hull under construction at Mécasoud (© Neoplia - Bernard Biger)
The Elbe Princesse (© Neopolia - Bernard Biger)
Encouraged by these successes, CroisiEurope awarded Neopolia Marine contracts to build the Elbe Princesse II (101m, 45 cabins) and the Loire Princesse II. Work began on the first on 8 December, with delivery scheduled for the spring of 2018, while the Loire Princesse II is scheduled for delivery in 2019. With further projects now in the pipeline, Patrick Schmitter, a CroisiEurope executive, is delighted with his company’s collaboration with Neopolia Marine. “Everything is going very well. The teams are highly professional. They deliver on time and the quality — which our customers really appreciate — is excellent.”
A well-oiled machine
Thanks to lead client CroisiEurope — Europe’s largest river cruise line with a fleet of 45 ships — Neopolia Marine has recorded solid growth in what has become a long-term business. “Before we began working with CroisiEurope, we had participated in various inland waterway projects, but always as subcontractors to shipyards. Now, we are the shipyard.” And the results are impressive. “It’s a real success story. The construction of the second ship enabled us to get our bearings and streamline our processes. We now have a well-oiled machine and our spirits are high. Relations with the client are also good as they are pleased with us. We look forward to a number of new projects,” said Hervé Germain.
Hervé Germain (© Neopolia - Mer et Marine - Vincent Groizeleau)
“Without the cluster, we couldn’t have done it”
The range of skills offered by Neopolia Marine members proved vital to the success of the Elbe Princesse project. Naval architecture bureau Stirling Design International developed the overall design and new-generation paddlewheels in collaboration with Arco Marine for the process engineering, Ship ST for the structural engineering and Hydrocéan for the hydrodynamics. Mécasoud built the hull and integrated the propulsion system and Acco built the superstructure and paddlewheels. Shipelec installed the electrical equipment, Gestal the networks, Cofely-Axima the air conditioning and ventilation, Polyesim Composites the bathrooms, Mapac Panel the panelling and partitions, while Myg Design undertook the remaining outfitting. “Without the network, we couldn’t have done it for the simple reason that individually, the collaborating companies are too small to take on this type of project,” said the Neopolia Vice-President.
With the strong backing of the Pays de la Loire regional council, the network has structured its members and given them a roadmap for collaboration while successfully lobbying administrations and government bodies at the same time. “Together, we have more visibility and the means to punch above our weight, by which I mean that we can achieve more than our members’ individual efforts could ever achieve. We also have the backing of the regional council and its financial support for R&D projects. Note, however, that we did not receive any financial assistance to build the CroisiEurope ships.”
Next step: turn-key delivery
Encouraged by this success, Neopolia Marine’s members plan to strengthen their long-term partnership with CroisiEurope by offering to take on higher level responsibilities. “So far, CroisiEurope has acted as both prime contractor and owner, or contracting principle. In future, we would like to do more, to work at a higher level. The idea is to set up an industrial consortium to act as the contracting agent and deliver turn-key products. This will probably be our next step. But, whatever transpires, we will not be competing head on against French shipyards like STX France, DCNS, Piriou, CMN or Ocea as our members are also subcontractors to them. The aim is to win new business in areas where there is no risk of conflict. Our strength lies in our mode of cooperation, with each member contributing its own skills. This is ideal for innovative and original projects.”
The Elbe Princesse during assembly (© Neopolia - Bernard Biger)
Towards other types of vessels
Neopolia Marine offers its clients conventional and innovative shipbuilding solutions using steel or aluminium, along with vessel repairs and allied services. In future, apart from vessels for inland waterways, cluster members hope to build other types of vessels for French and international clients. Indeed, they are already working on several innovative projects.
One is the Neoliner, a 120-metre sailing vessel with a cargo capacity of 5,700 tonnes designed to sail transoceanic routes using wind power up to 90% of the time. Neoline, the Nantes-based company set up to develop the programme, has entrusted the design and construction studies to Neopolia.
Design concept for Neoliner sailing cargo vessel (© Neoline)
Another is the Seafret Caraïbes programme, based in Martinique in the Caribbean, which aims to develop a 35-metre sailing cargo vessel for inter-island trade. The design is being developed by Nantes-based naval architect François Lucas.
Members of the Neopolia network are also contributing to other environment-friendly projects. Naval architects Bureau Mauric designed the 24-metre trawler Arpège built at Boulogne-sur-Mer by Socarenam. Bureau Mauric is also working on the FILHyPyNE project to develop a 12-m multi-technique fishing boat using hydrogen fuel cell propulsion. A demonstrator is scheduled for completion in 2017/2018.
Yet another example is the first hydrogen fuel cell-powered waterway bus, operational since mid-2016, for the city of Nantes’ Navibus service. Ship ST and SDI contributed to the design, while Symbio FCell developed the propulsion system and Navalu built the hull.
Haliade 150 offshore wind turbine (© GE)
The Neopolia network’s MRE cluster brings together 180 companies (representing 18,000 jobs) focussing on marine renewable energy, a sector that is the centre of much attention in the region. Like the Marine cluster, the MRE cluster aims to work closely with the sector’s prime contractors while structuring its members to respond more effectively to the industry’s needs. To this end, the network recently set up Neolab, an action programme to define competitive organisational and contracting arrangements for the fabrication of sophisticated welded assemblies. The challenges here include the collective certification of groups of companies to specific standards, and the sharing of resources and joint design studies. On the business front, a subgroup of the cluster’s companies signed its first contract in May with prime contractor Alstom. This calls for the delivery of five transportation cradles for Haliade 150 nacelles for offshore wind turbines produced by Alstom’s plant at Montoir-de-Bretagne near Saint-Nazaire. To this end, Gestal and ADF Côte Ouest, a company specialising in sheetmetal work, pipework and industrial maintenance, have set up a temporary company grouping (known in France as a GMES) led by ADF. Several other companies belonging to the Neopolia network are also contributing to different phases as subcontractors.