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Small innovation grant helps Malakoff guarantee the safety of vessels

Published 13/05/2021 by Gillian Galloway 4 min read

Ryan Stevenson Malakoff, Katrina Wiseman HIE, Claire Christey Malakoff at Malakoff's Greenhead Facility in Lerwick, Shetland

Meeting up and chatting face to face isn’t as easy as it once was, so Gillian Galloway, our Head of Innovation, has launched a new series where she shares a virtual cup of coffee with an inspirational business to learn about how they have recently innovated. 

Malakoff Limited, a Shetland based engineering company, has a history stretching back to the 1850s and are still innovating! Here Ryan Stevenson shares how they have adapted their working practices during the pandemic and developed innovative solutions for the marine industry.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Established in the late 1850s, Malakoff Limited is Shetland’s oldest engineering and fabrication contractor. It started out as a shipyard and has expanded its offering to many services including welding and fabrication, coatings for boats, inspection, testing and certification, marine construction and civil engineering, ship repair, aquaculture support and project management.

Malakoff Limited works across a number of sectors including oil and gas, utilities and renewables and has been the main contractor for the SVT jetty maintenance in Shetland since 2000.

What support have you been given from the Innovation team at HIE?

We are account managed by HIE and are grateful to have had lots of support over the years, from providing grants to training staff.

We recently received a Small Innovation Grant from HIE to support us on an ongoing project in collaboration with Hook Marine which involves stability monitoring for boats. Hook Marine offers an off-the-shelf product which provides real time stability monitoring via sensors. This technology can flag up if a boat is operating outside of its “stability envelope”. This project will allow real time figures to be logged as part of ongoing condition monitoring to guarantee the safety of vessels.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges, how did this impact your business?

We faced significant challenges last year, for example, we lost a proportion of our planned turnover and at one stage we had around 80% of staff on furlough. Luckily, some of our projects were deemed essential by the local council due to the nature of our work with the local ferry service and the aquaculture industry which meant we were never 100% closed and could get staff back in a COVID safe way.

We faced a lot of upheaval, but we managed to work our way through the challenges and this has made us stronger and more resilient as a business.

Did you innovate or diversify to overcome challenges and turn these into an advantage for your business?

We had to completely change our working procedures and created team bubbles for colleagues who had to work closely to deliver projects. Daily virtual meetings were scheduled to check in with team members and ensure any issues on projects were raised quickly. We had to roll out staggered break times, something we never had to think about before. We also had to change the inspection side of the business which involved lots of calls and virtual meetings with surveyors.

Did the time and space afforded by lockdown bring any new business ideas to explore?

To be honest, I would say it was almost the complete opposite for us because we faced operational challenges which meant the whole management team had to focus on ensuring company survival and resilience during this time. A lot of work went in to producing COVID safe procedures to get more of our projects off the ground again while ensuring staff safety.

What’s on the horizon for the business?

We have a number of big contracts we are working on that will keep us busy for a few years, but we are also looking to the future and adapting our offering to reflect changes in the industry. For example, the renewable energy sector offers huge potential to Shetland, be that wind or marine renewables, and we are keen to ensure we build on our expertise in this area so we are at the forefront of this.

Looking back, what one piece of advice would you give to yourself when starting out in this industry?

Engineers tend to have a specialism they are focused on but I would advise keeping an eye on what is happening outside of that. It’s important to have general knowledge as well as specialist knowledge to be able to turn problems on their head. I would also advise paying more attention to the management side as well as the technical aspects of engineering as this helps in the longer term.

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