“We're a perfect match,” says Oscar Rodríguez with a grin. By 'we' he means Rodman Polyships and MTU. 90 % of all vessels built by Rodman Polyships leave the shipyard with an MTU engine. “We've been partnering with MTU for over 30 years now. This long-term relationship has honed us into a seasoned team,” he adds. Oscar is CEO of the Spanish shipbuilder. Rodman Polyships has five locations in Spain and Portugal and is one of Europe's biggest shipbuilders. Whether it's lifeboats for the Spanish Red Cross, patrol boats for Oman or catamarans for China – the Spanish shipyard can build anything from 2 up to 200 m long. “There's no boat we cannot build,” says Oscar.
Oscar's working day starts at 07:30h. “I'm a Spaniard with a German mentality,” he says. “Punctuality, trust and quality – German virtues that are our standards too.” Dressed in a white shirt and beige slacks, he sits in his office on the second floor of the shipbuilder's five-storey head office in Moaña, a small industrial town in the west of Spain. From here, he has a good view of the shipyard – and his own harbor. It's on this narrow peninsula between the Ria de Vigo and Ria de Pontevedra estuaries that ships are built to ply waters the whole world over. The yard's proximity to Vigo gives Rodman Polyships in Moaña a direct link to a city which boasts the country's largest fishing fleet. The port of Vigo is the most important in the world when it comes to fish and seafood. “We've now got ships bearing our logo on all five continents, and that's a great feeling,” explains Oscar's father, Manuel Rodríguez, founder and Executive Director of the family business. What started in 1974 building fishing boats has now grown into a business with global reach. The name Rodman comes from the first syllables of the father's name, Manuel Rodríguez. Rodman started fitting MTU engines to its craft in 1980.
Down-to-earth – the shipyard's recipe for success
“MTU builds engines you can trust,” says Oscar. “And we build ships designed for MTU engines. That's just a perfect match,” he adds. “MTU understands what we need, and there's a great mutual trust between us. That's important in today's fast-moving world of business,” interjects his father, Manuel.
Being down-to-earth is part of the shipyard's recipe for success. Neither Oscar, his sister Silvia nor the other workers have forgotten where this successful family business has come from. Manuel Rodríguez and the current head of production, Julio Martínez Coba, founded the yard in 1974 with the dream of being able to build boats using any material. Today, Rodman has over 400 employees. Rodman Polyships is part of the Rodman Group. The founder, Manuel, was also responsible for getting the other divisions up and running: Neuvisa builds tenders, Metalships & Docks builds yachts and platform supply vessels, and Rodman Lusitania in Portugal produces sophisticated composites used in applications such as wind turbine components, submarine decks and covers in buses and trains. Four companies are spread across five locations in Spain and Portugal, occupying a total of 250,000 square meters.
These five yards are what it takes to have global reach. The yards have an impressive level of high-tech development, quality control and safety, and are environmentally-friendly. “As a business person, you cannot afford to limit yourself to one sector of industry. You've got to have a broad base,” says Manuel. Rodman is one of the few shipbuilders building so many vessels for a wide span of different applications. “As you would expect, the economic crisis of 2008 hit the shipping industry too. Spain spent a long time in the doldrums, not buying any ships, but despite that we are continuing to grow slowly. We'd rather grow slowly than too quickly,” says the 37-year-old. He loves a challenge. To date, Rodman has built roughly 14,000 vessels and is currently producing around 500 per year. Until a few years ago, Rodman still had over 50 competitors in Spain – today there are only two. “The economic crisis forced them out of business,” adds Manuel, his tone serious.
Almost like a vacation
Moaña, in the west of Spain, is not somewhere that immediately springs to mind when you think of vacation resorts. Yet the cloudless sky, crystal-clear water and light breeze tell a different story. Oscar casts his blue eyes over the water. Even though sea trials follow a uniform pattern, each one is different. Oscar knows this. “We assume everything is working – in theory. But it's only when you're on the water, cruising along at top speed, that you see the relief spreading across the engineers' faces.” he says. The water is glistening on this hot summer's day: there could be no better weather for sea-trialing a Type 55 patrol boat.
Oscar starts the engine, and a few minutes later the Rodman shipyard is falling quickly astern. There is a smell of salt and sea water in the air. Seagulls circle overhead, and the patrol boat powers past the mussel farms. “Sea, sun and a boat trip – feels like vacation, wouldn't you say?” says Oscar, the sun lighting up his tanned face. As all Rodman boats undergo sea trials on the Atlantic, Oscar knows every bay along the Spanish-Portuguese coast. The Spaniard holds a Master Mariner's license – “valid for any vessel,” he emphasizes. In open water now, with Vigo in our sights, Oscar powers the boat up to 35 knots, and the sea – impressively calm just a few moments ago – is churned up into large waves. Far from avoiding them, Oscar deliberately crosses the waves, making the boat jump up and down. “Everything's working as planned,” he says in a loud voice, trying to rise above the noise inside the boat.
“We can do everything”
“Whatever the boat, whatever the material, we can do everything,” says Oscar at the end of our foray, piloting the boat back into the shipyard harbor. Whether a patrol boat or a passenger ferry: with characteristic calmness, Oscar takes every vessel out onto the Atlantic and safely home to port – including a patrol boat he recently tested for the Moroccan coast guard: eight hours at full throttle, from north to south and back again – all of it along the Spanish coast. It is important to Oscar to be there when the vessels are launched. “I want to see how the boat moves, and the things we've spent months working on.” Sea trials, he says, are an important part of understanding what Rodman builds. “A lot of customers have special requirements we have to incorporate,” says Oscar. “We also owe our success to the ideas and requirements of our customers. Indeed, nothing drives us more than turning demanding requirements into reality,” adds his father, Manuel.
Specialization in fast patrol boats
The family business led by Oscar's father, Executive Director Manuel Rodríguez, has specialized in building fast patrol boats. “Irrespective of which government agency in Europe you ask: when the discussion comes round to patrol boats, the name Rodman Polyships will be mentioned,” says Pablo Vivancos, Head of Sales at MTU Iberica. He is on site regularly at Rodman Polyships. Five new Rodman 111 patrol-and-intercept boats will be handed over to the Royal Oman Police for coast guard duties: the 35-m high-speed vessels are each powered by two 16V Series 2000 engines. The Rodman workforce put 7,000 hours of work into each vessel. “Someone from MTU Iberica is there each time a boat with our engines is launched,” says Vivancos. “The demands made of the boats destined for Oman are especially high: the water can be up to 40°C and air temperatures even higher – not somewhere you want the engine cooling to fail. And that's why we choose to bank on MTU,” says Oscar Rodríguez. The Royal Oman Police is to deploy the 35-m long boats on coast guard duties and search-and-rescue work. The vessels are due to go into service in the first half of 2017 – they are the largest patrol boats Rodman has ever built.
Catamarans for China
For Oscar, expertise and design are the keys to success. Rodman Polyships is also demonstrating this with a major order for catamarans. In all, ten Rodman 84 catamarans are to be supplied – with 12,000 hours going into each vessel. Each cat is powered by two MTU 10V Series 2000 M84 diesel engines. The vessel is able to accommodate up to 350 passengers - “in seats like Lufthansa's, not a budget airline's,” grins Oscar.
The catamarans are 26 m long. “What makes this craft special is that it's extremely light and compact. This gives it a top speed of 30 knots, around 56 km per hour,” he adds. Their reliability and efficiency make the MTU Series 2000 marine diesels perfect for use in catamarans. They are capable of covering distances of over 600 Miles. “By signing this contract, Rodman is establishing itself as one of the premier shipbuilders worldwide for all types of vessels,” says Oscar. Away from work, Oscar willingly settles for something a little smaller than a catamaran for several hundred passengers or a 35-m patrol boat. “I just have a sailboat for days out with the family – that does me fine,” he laughs. At vacation time, he even turns his back on the water and heads inland – where he finds the peace and quiet he needs away from the yard – and looks forward to his next spin in a patrol boat.