Founded in the year 2000, Steerprop is a Finland-based company that manufactures propulsors, which are used for propelling or positioning seagoing vessels by controlling the strength and the direction of their propeller thrust. The company specialises in azimuth propulsors, a product in which the propellers are located in pods that can be rotated horizontally, rendering the need for a rudder obsolete and vastly improving the vessel’s manoeuvrability. Steerprop’s main customers are companies working in the offshore oil and gas industry, and the majority of its propulsors are used in either platform supply vessels or multi-purpose vessels. It does, however, also provide applications for passenger vessels, tugboats and other types of work vessels.
As a global leader in its field, the vast majority of Steerprop’s business lies in other countries, as managing director, Jarmo Savikurki, elaborates: “There are three individual areas in which our products are utilised. This consists of the US, where we export mainly to customers operating in the offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico; the Far East, where the bulk of our customers are based in China and Singapore; and Europe, which is predominantly Russian and Norwegian companies. Nearly all of our propulsors are being used overseas, and there is actually just one vessel in Finland equipped with our units – so maintaining our worldwide presence is vital to our success.”
Steerprop’s reputation is built upon the high quality of its products, and Jarmo cites its ability to innovate as one of its many strengths: “We are always striving to be the world number one in our field, and this means that we are developing new products all the time. Research and development is very important to us and we work very closely with our customers to produce the best propulsors on the market. We are capable of fulfilling very specific requirements for many special vessels, and in doing this we have been able to continually increase our network of shipyard and ship-owner contacts in our relatively short history as a company.”
One of Steerprop’s current areas of development is designing units for arctic applications. Most recently, this has included the main propulsors for two icebreakers, Varandey and Toboy, built by Singaporean company Keppel Singmarine Pte Ltd. These vessels are designed to travel through solid ice of up to 1.7 metres in thickness, in order to assist oil tankers operating in the Barents Sea of Russia. Jarmo explains the challenges that working within this niche market brings: “The propulsors used in these applications are widely different from standard units because of the demands brought on by the geographical conditions. Normally, propellers are operating in water whereas here they may have to cut through solid ice and so they need to be very durable. The units also have to be very reliable because there are no dry docks and few maintenance services available in such remote and hostile locations.”
Another field that Steerprop has been experimenting heavily with at the moment is the use of contra-rotating propellers. These are propellers that rotate in opposite directions to each other, whilst still being powered by the same engine. Jarmo highlights some of the benefits of such products, and elaborates on why the company has chosen to invest in this area: “Contra-rotating propellers are becoming increasingly popular in the offshore industry because they are extremely fuel-efficient and therefore provide a very economical alternative to the standard types. In addition to the contribution they can make to reducing emissions, they are also able to save customers a lot of money – which is particularly relevant in today’s market environment.”
Steerprop itself has been fortunate to escape the worst of the recession largely unscathed. Jarmo discusses why this has been the case: “We have only seen a very small impact upon our business activities because our main focus is offshore oil and gas – an industry that has not been as seriously influenced by the crisis as those working with container vessels or cargo vessels, for instance. Companies that have a lot of involvement in those areas have suffered because decreasing demand has led to cancellations in many areas of shipbuilding. We, too were not immune to the impact of the crisis and, whilst we haven’t had as many new orders recently, we are very optimistic that the situation will improve very soon as activity picks up again.”
Predicting a positive future ahead, Jarmo concludes: “We expect to maintain a steady growth in 2010 and we hope to further penetrate the market for arctic applications. This, combined with our forays into contra-rotating propellers, will give us a springboard to progress into the new decade as a major player in our field.”
Products: Azimuth propulsors