I recently spent time traveling to companies in the traditional maritime hub of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The overriding message from the presentations was one of optimism. Oil prices are at a sustainable level, demand for offshore equipment and services is rising, and today’s competitive marketplace is driving companies to stay creative. The mantra of “innovate or die” is still alive and kicking.

Bob Rietveldt, managing director of vessel designer Ulstein Sea of Solutions, listed a string of projects his company is working on with partners such as Aker Solutions and NOV. These range from pioneering design work just completed on an arctic-dedicated drillship (the Ulstein AXDS) for Statoil to a latest generation vessel designed for ultra-deepwater multipurpose construction work. The arctic drill-ship is still perhaps five to 10 years from becoming reality, but as Rietveldt said, “Winterization is not enough in the Arctic. It’s science fiction, but it’s not Star Trek.”

Ulstein’s latest multipurpose vessel is not fiction, however, and is already being built at Hyundai Heavy Industries for Toisa, the first company to order a unit from the Deepwater Enabler series. This will be delivered in 2015. “It’s more about the functionality of this design that makes it unique,” Rietveldt said. “And we have a family of such subsea construction vessels. It’s designed for the future.”

Other clever design solutions partner with Norway’s NLI for a box beam (as opposed to the standard lattice structure) derrick with a retractable top for a drill-ship. This allows the unit to pass under bridges on the Bosphorus en route to the Black Sea to work the summer season without having to disassemble the derrick and rebuild it on the other side.

Another company, Sea Trucks Group, stressed the importance of multifunctionality for modern units such as the Jascon 18 vessel it is building at a cost of US $400 million. Due for delivery later next year, it will be able to carry out pipelay in up to 3,000 m (9,843 ft) of water. “Our strategy is to play the different markets in one region – whether accommodation, pipelay, or construction – rather than have to constantly move the vessel all around the world,” Guy Devos, the company’s operations general manager, said.

SBM Offshore CEO Bruno Chabas also chose to flag conceptual work his company is carrying out, including studying the conversion and combination of two LNG carriers into a twin-hulled midscale floating LNG (FLNG) solution for developing smaller gas fields. SBM said it has had “big interest” from operators, including FLNG pioneers such as Shell, which already is building giant projects such as Prelude. So midscale FLNG clearly has running room.

I’ll leave the closing comment on innovation to a rather more intelligent man than myself, Albert Einstein, who (when apparently bemoaning the lack of new thinking coming from elsewhere), reportedly commented, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Quite so.