Company needs smaller manufacturers to supply parts for $8-billion project. - by Scott Simpson



Small and medium-sized marine manufacturers were urged Thursday to get on board with Seaspan as the North Vancouver shipbuilder nears the start of its $8-billion federal contract.

Seaspan expects to start construction in about a year on the first of eight non-military ships it will build over a 30-year period, and both the company and its primary partners are looking for potentially hundreds of smaller marine companies to supply parts, materials and equipment for the projects.

Representatives of 360 companies got the message at a shipbuilding symposium at the Westin Bayshore delivered by Minister of State for Western Diversification Lynne Yelich, from the federal government's procurement office, and from representatives of Seaspan and partners - some of which are already embedded into Seas-pan's shipyard operations.

Representatives of Irving Shipyard of Halifax also spoke at the symposium, which was organized by Western Economic Diversification Canada.

"Our goal is to ensure that your business has the knowledge and your business has the connections it needs to leverage shipbuilding opportunities being presented by our national strategy," Yelich told attendees. "I want you to be set up for success."

Yelich said that of 360 companies registered for the event, 321 are based in Western Canada.

Gerald Esau, project manager for Seaspan's offshore fisheries science vessel project, said the company expects construction of the first of three vessels in that series will commence in 12 months.

The company expects initial design of that vessel to be completed in a few weeks. He said a $200-million project to update the company's shipyard and infrastructure with equipment needed to build the vessels is "on schedule" and will be able to support a construction start in April 2014.

Esau said the company will issue requests for information this month to determine the capabilities of potential suppliers - such as lead times for delivery of materials and equipment, for the prices they expect to charge, and whether the equipment conforms to marine standards.

Requests for proposals will be sent in June to potential suppliers who make the short lists, he said.

Seaspan has an online supplier registry and its existing database of qualified suppliers, he said.

"It is important that if you want to participate in this program, you are registered on our online supplier registration," Esau said.

"Currently we have over 1,500 new suppliers that have already registered,"

Gary Payne of Thales Canada had a similar message. Thales is one of four major partners already working with Seaspan and is handling integration of electronic systems, including cell link, navigation, positioning, sonar and radar.

He encouraged potential suppliers to make their presence known.

"Once your name is seen it's not a question of being a pest, it's a question of being a part of the team. You've got to be there. If we don't know you exist we can't do business with you," Payne said.

Companies that strike a relationship with Thales through ship contracts also have the potential to expand internationally - Thales has 67,000 employees in 56 countries, Payne noted.

Terry Williston, executive director of the National Ship Procurement Strategy, said the federal government expects to lower the risk of cost overruns on its projects through a collaborative design-to-build process that minimizes guesswork and risk for contract bidders by involving designers, shipbuilders and the federal government throughout development of initial and final ship designs.

Less risk means less likelihood that contractors will be forced to add risk premiums into their bids, he said.

"When you try to place risk on another party, that generally costs you some money," Williston said.