Jelle Veenstra has loved mechanical parts ever since he can remember. ‘Even as a kid I ‘invented things’ out of junk material, like wires, LEGO or whatever I could find.’ Now, decades later, he still spends his time ‘inventing’ – but on a much larger and more complex scale than he ever could have with LEGO. We spoke with this Production Automation Engineer at Van Oord’s head office in Rotterdam.
With his degree in Mechanical Engineering and specialisation in Mechanical Automation from the University of Twente, Jelle started his career at a gearbox service company. While travelling from client to client, he had the opportunity to see many vessels from the inside. ‘Working on board the Van Oord vessels always was a pleasant experience, and I came to know many people within the organisation. After a while, I decided to look for a job that was a bit more in line with my education. I contacted Van Oord and I found my current job. For me, it’s the perfect mix between theory and practice’, Jelle tells us.
Automation of the production process
What does your job as a Production Automation Engineer involve? ‘In our fleet, a large number of vessels are equipped with the in-house developed VODAS or VOCAM system. We use it for the automation of the production process and to make the equipment function more efficiently. It is my job to write the software, and to commission, test and maintain these systems’, Jelle explains. ‘My current focus is on flexible fall pipe vessels, in particular the newly built vessel Bravenes. This type of vessel is used to perform high-precision rock installation on the seabed. The development of using process automation on flexible fall pipe vessels is in full swing. We’re integrating different subsystems on the Bravenes that will help us determine the volumes of rock we need. It’s a great feeling to be part of this new development!’
Developing and improving possibilities
‘Automation has played an important role in our dredging fleet since the eighties, it’s something we at Van Oord are very good at’, Jelle explains. ‘Developing possibilities and improving systems remain priorities at Van Oord, including on board the flexible fall pipe vessels. There are many opportunities to make improvements, and every improvement you make saves time and money. That’s what makes this job so interesting. And this brings new challenges as well. There are usually multiple solutions to a problem, so being able to convince people of that yours is the best one and get their support is a real motivator.’
Does this work require other qualities besides a technical education and a great interest in mechanics? ‘As cliché it may sound, this job demands creativity and the ability to think outside the box. It’s also important to be a good listener if you want to come up with the best solution.’
Freedom and flexibility
‘Van Oord is a family-owned business and that’s what sets it apart. You’re given a lot of freedom and flexibility to do your job as you see fit, which also helps you achieve a work/life balance even if your personal life is very busy. I really appreciate that.’ Diversity makes the work even more interesting, according to Jelle. ‘It’s far more satisfying than a typical nine-to-five job. In addition, the dredging and offshore vessels are impressive pieces of machinery to work with. It’s great to be on board these types of vessels and work with the crew. In the end, I love being at sea. I guess that’s something the Dutch love.’ Where does Jelle see himself in a couple of years? ‘Although there are plenty of career opportunities and many ways to grow at Van Oord, I want to continue working on computers and systems. It’s what I love to do.’
Jelle encourages people to start working in the maritime contracting and offshore industry. ‘In addition to projects relating to fossil fuels, we’re focusing on renewable energy. There’s an enormous amount of work lying ahead of us. Building wind farms, installing foundations, laying cables. There are plenty of opportunities available, especially if you’re interested in mechanical automation.’