October 2017

Instinct, Matured

Great things take time to mature... and so does engineering excellence. As MDL reaches 18 years in business, CEO Derek Smith recaps on the company's journey of growth - one reel drive at a time.

18 is a great number… particularly for whisky!

Just like good whisky, it also takes time to mature a company… And MDL is now 18 years old.

18 years means a significant track record, and we have seen a different set of challenges throughout those years. Clients ask a different set of questions: in years 1 and 2 it’s: “Who are you?” and “How can I trust you?”. At 18 they ask: “How quickly can you deliver?”.

It has been quite a journey. We started as a fishing winch builder and repair shop. Because of this we had a design capability in-house - and so, as we started repairing tensioners and refurbishing reel drive systems, our clients begun to ask us for new-built equipment; and that new-built equipment was the foundation for what MDL is today.

We started with a small tensioner - that was the first ever complete MDL-manufactured piece of equipment, built for Aquatic for their equipment fleet. We then went on to deliver 20Te tensioners, 40Te tensioners and so on, up to our current biggest machine at 110Te.

Similar story with the reel drive systems: the first MDL design started at 80Te, and from there it’s worked its way up. The biggest one to date - at 800Te - was just delivered earlier this month… as you probably know as we didn’t keep that a secret!

If you were to ask 18-year-old MDL: “Why did Oceaneering choose you for the delivery of this system?”, I’d like to believe it was because they saw us as a mature company. A company that was big enough to deliver what they wanted, but small and experienced enough to care about the optimisation that they were looking for, and the design details that would give them an edge in their market.

We pride ourselves on those characteristics that MDL has come to be known for: innovative, flexible and customer-focused. Of course, everyone is “innovative” these days… but I believe MDL truly is; that’s because we come up with ideas before we are asked for them.

Take the PVLS for example: the reason we came up with a portable VLS was not to compete with dedicated installation vessels with lay towers, but rather: to provide a more cost-effective alternative to project teams running individual missions, on tight schedules or in distant parts of the world, where manufacturing a dedicated ramp or a support structure would be a costly headache.

The market didn’t know how much this solution was needed until it carried out its first project, contributing to reducing the mission by 11 days. I’d say there’s a bit of an instinct in coming up with an idea that we can commercialise, and taking it to the market before we’re asked for it.

We push our products and we push ourselves in the way we deliver our services… But we never take giant leaps, really. The Oceaneering reel drive system was the seventh one we delivered in about 3 years, but each next one had been a design iteration of the last - and we’ve been delivering these since our early days, after all.

We never get outrageous and come out with a brand new concept from start to finish; instead, we package proven elements in a clever way that is more beneficial to the client or the specific market, adding a few improvements as we, ourselves, learn and develop further. That reduces the risk commonly associated with anything new - and ensures any risks on the job are mitigated or completely eliminated.

But all of this takes time: time spent with clients, understanding their challenges; over the proverbial drawing board; proving the technology on a job; and building the track record. We call it maturing an Ingenious Instinct - and at 18 we feel we’re doing exactly that.

Derek Smith, CEO

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