ALMACO's CEO is Bullish on Maritime

By Greg Trauthwein

Where many see challenges, Vilhelm Roberts, CEO and President of ALMACO Group sees opportunity, as his company has carved a niche in providing turnkey accommodation spaces and food handling areas serving the global maritime and offshore markets. He discusses the company’s strategy and future with Maritime Reporter.

“We were born global,” said Roberts. The mother company is in Finland, and he leads the company from the company’s office in Florida along with his CFO who is in the office in France. More to the point, the company manufactures accommodation and food handling spaces, but Roberts admits “we have no ‘own’ manufacturing, as our business plan is to stay flexible. We have excellent, reliable partners in different world regions. If you want to stay competitive you must remain flexible, you must be international.”

One of the company’s core philosophies is centered on its Mobile Modular Cabin Production Line, where Roberts claims the company can take a warehouse with a flat floor, good lighting and good ventilation – anywhere in the world – and turn it into an efficient cabin-making machine. He explains: “We provide cabins for projects where there isn’t an established cabin factory building 4,000 or 5,000 cabins per year. We can easily and quickly assemble the factory anywhere in the world and start delivering modular cabins right away for both newbuilding and modernization projects. To date we have set up factories in 12 different locations around the world.”

The value for a shipbuilder is a flexible and accomplished partner who can fulfill a technically demanding, logistically challenging part of the shipbuilding operation. If you are a shipyard building cargo ships, and then all of the sudden you win a ferry contract, then ALMACO can jump in and set up a factory to start producing modular cabins as you continue the construction of the rest of the vessel. “As I said, we have done this many times and it all revolves around logistics, bringing in kits to be built up and rolled onboard the ships,” said Roberts. “It is engineering, it is logistics, it is globally sourced and it is very competitive.”

Two Heads are Better than One

In 2016 ALMACO shed its business of supplying product and systems for shore side facilities, focusing instead on two core units, Maritime and Offshore. The Finnish operations are centered on accommodations, whereas France and Italy are focused on food handling – galley’s, refrigeration and food storage. ALMACO also has a presence in China, Brazil and Singapore, and in fact the company got its start in offshore about 10 years ago in Singapore when Keppel FELS asked to provide accommodations for the first Floatel International unit, Floatel Superior. “We were already in Singapore for the cruise business, and they invited us to work with them to lift the quality standard of accommodations on the Floatel project, which included 440 NORSOK-compliant cabins. Since then the business has taken off.”

ALMACO is also well situated in the global cruise industry, a business that has been booming for a number of years with more, ever-larger ships. While Roberts was remiss to point out one project in the cruise sector that stood above all others, he did admit a great satisfaction and pride in being onboard the Genting Dream of Dream Cruises, which is the first custom made cruise ship for the Chinese cruise shipping market. “It is purpose built for the Chinese market and we built all of the food handling areas,” said Roberts. He sees great opportunity in China, as some market prognosticators predict that within a decade China’s cruise industry could be larger than Florida’s cruise industry, which is today the world’s largest by a large margin. But the marine sector is certainly not limited to cruise, and in this regard Roberts sees green fields of opportunity to roll the ALMACO concept into shipyards globally.

Just last month, in a partnership with Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec, Canada, ALMACO delivered an outfitted accommodation unit for installation on a converted containership which will become Canada’s Resolve-Class AOR; a naval auxiliary vessel which will be the largest ship operating in the Royal Canadian Navy fleet. ALMACO literally delivered the living quarters completely outfitted with all accommodation facilities, ready to ‘plug and play.’ Making this contract perhaps a bit more special is the unit was built in Finland and delivered in Quebec via ocean barge. “That’s 2,200 tons of living quarters transported on an ocean barge from Rauma, Finland to Quebec, Canada … that’s pretty cool,” Roberts said in understatement. Thanks to ALMACO’s skills and technological expertise in accommodation construction, the company was able to meet the deadline to deliver the superstructure to Davie while sharing the technical knowledge with the Canadian team as part of the partnership. 

ALMACO’s scope of work included the full EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) contract for the accommodation unit including cabins, public areas, galley, provision stores, wheelhouse and technical spaces, combining cruise-ship standard accommodation with military requirements.

Strong Roots, Bright Future

Roberts joined ALMACO as CEO in 2005 after running the passenger ship division at MacGregor, which was acquired by ALMACO. “I think the spirit of the company is incredible, the same as when I joined. We are a bunch of highly motivated people, very international and at our best when working on difficult products and demanding projects.”

Today ALMACO is about 200 people strong, and while it started in the refurbishment business, nearly 60 percent of its revenue today comes from the newbuild sector. With the offshore business down for several years, ALMACO too is challenged. “There is a benefit to us having these two businesses – Marine and Offshore – because one is booming and one is not,” said Roberts. “We also are re-shuffling our resources. The level of outfit is much higher on a cruise ship than an offshore accommodation, but it’s the same fundamental concept, it’s the same method of installation. That is another benefit to our movable, mobile manufacturing process.”

ALMACO’s flexibility has served it well, enabling it to nimbly turn and efficiently serve an ever changing global maritime market. “This business is changing all of the time. In the early years, there were fewer ships and smaller organizations and there has been a big consolidation. Today the companies are more professional in their approach especially when it comes to our accommodation and food handling equipment; they know what they want. We have to be much more aggressive and constantly find new ways to become more competitive. It is a much bigger industry.”

(As published in the June 2017 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News)

Maritime Reporter Magazine, page 18,  Jun 2017

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