In an Australian defence contracting environment that has experienced many peaks and troughs, an SME has recently celebrated its 25th birthday and is still going strong. Australian Marine Technologies started life as Blohm+Voss (Australia) – a local centre of naval engineering and systems integration expertise created to support the company’s ultimately successful bid for the ANZAC frigate project.
4th Oct 2012
Local design expertise and experience
Byline: Kym Bergmann / Melbourne
In an Australian defence contracting environment that has experienced many peaks and troughs, an SME has recently celebrated its 25th birthday and is still going strong. Australian Marine Technologies started life as Blohm+Voss (Australia) – a local centre of naval engineering and systems integration expertise created to support the company’s ultimately successful bid for the ANZAC frigate project. History has proven the ANZAC project to be one of the most successful – if not the most successful – major local defence procurements, with a total of 10 frigates constructed: eight for Australia and two for New Zealand.
During a recent visit to the company’s headquarters in Melbourne, Managing Director Rob Dunbar gave some insight into the history and brought APDR up to date:
“Well in advance of contract award and while we still had more than two years of competition ahead of us, the German parent company decided that the proper way of supporting the bid and ensuring a low risk outcome if we were selected was to make a very large up-front investment. Basically, we recruited a team of Australian naval architects and engineers, commencing in 1987, and that grew to more than 30 in-country specialists. Almost all of us had lengthy stints in the parent yard in Hamburg learning the ropes and making sure we had an extremely good understanding of frigate design, production engineering and construction.
“At the same time, we had a lot of input into the bid itself – primed by AMECON, which morphed into Tenix several years later - and because most of us had been previously working either in or with the Royal Australian Navy we were able to give the Blohm+Voss parent company a whole lot of insights that they probably would have had difficulty finding otherwise. It turned out to be a great combination and even at an early stage we had a seamless flow of communication between Germany and Australia.”
B+V(A) relocated from Canberra to the yard in Willianstown in the early 1990s and had a continuous presence on site during the build phase.
With a change of name to AMT in the mid 90’s the company remained at around 30 specialist employees and was able to call on the very substantial resources of the parent company in Hamburg whenever required.
To further strengthen the links between the Prime Contractor Tenix and the ANZAC Ship Designer B+V, the former purchased 50% of AMT as an instrument of a Strategic Alliance with an eye firmly on the AWD Project. Whilst the AWD dream was not realized, this arrangement saw a repeat of the former ANZAC relationship with AMT designing for Tenix’s production of the HMAS Sirius Tanker conversion - another significant success for Tenix, AMT and the Commonwealth.
Not long after BAE Systems purchased Tenix in 2007 AMT moved into private Australian hands, with the majority acquiring party being Bernie Clark, who was the company’s original Managing Director and who has remained involved with the Company for all of the previous 25 years, as has its current Managing Director.
One of the ironies regarding the activities of AMT is that while it continues to support the two New Zealand ANZAC frigates, it’s involvement with the 8 Australian ships have reduced from the late 90’s coming to a virtual end in 2007 – though this is now changing. The reasons are complex but relate largely to the nature of the ANZAC Alliance as it took over the design support role for the in-service ships.
Regarding New Zealand however, the company has played a pivotal role in the ongoing major upgrades of its two frigates, which to date has seen the modernisation of their diesel engines and the ships’ control systems as well as a number of other improvements including an entirely new air conditioning system, a range of layout changes, stability enhancement and now the combat systems changes under the Frigate Systems Upgrade Program.
Into the bargain, the company has been involved in some exotic overseas activities such as assisting the Royal Brunei Navy to evaluate three patrol vessels purchased from the United Kingdom. These were found to not meet the original specification and were rejected by the customer. Another fascinating project is the Combat Systems upgrade of two frigates for the Royal Thai Navy. This is in support of Saab – a relationship built on the close collaboration the company’s have enjoyed on the ANZAC ships (Saab being the combat system supplier).
With its new found independence AMT has built strong relationships with a range of the major players within the Australian defence scene and is providing support across the full range of RAN fleet assets. Yet whilst its ownership can change its pedigree cannot: its engineering approach remains influenced by its immersion in the Blohm + Voss design house in those early ANZAC days.
25 years and still going strong.
(The author proudly declares a personal interest in this story, having been an employee of B+V (A) working on the ANZAC Frigate bid. He would finally like to recognize the almost infinite patience of the long-suffering senior management team of the company)