Expom is a company with over 60 years of experience in implementing projects for such demanding industries as offshore and shipbuilding, machinery, gas and oil, energy and the renewable energy sector. The company provides comprehensive execution of the customer’s order, from the design of the steel structure, through the phase of analysis, production and equipment, to independent testing. Its products reach the farthest corners of the globe. We asked Rafał Domżalski, President of the Management Board of Expom SA, about the directions of the company’s activity, its cooperation with foreign clients and the perception of competition.
Expom SA operates in many specializations and industries. Please list the main areas.
We deal with large-size, specialized steel structures for industries in which technical requirements are very high – such as mining, energy, machinery, marine and crane industries. In addition to the structures themselves, we also equip them with hydraulic, electric and remote control systems. In addition, we carry out final tests of finished products. This allows us to carry out the full production process in our own factory, including painting and outfitting, as well as appropriate final acceptance and technical tests.
Expom SA products reach companies from Europe, Asia and the USA. Almost all production carries out orders from foreign customers. How can a company with Polish capital successfully find its place on international markets, among global and demanding clients? How did you manage to reach foreign companies with your offer?
Expom sends its structures mainly to Western Europe and the North, but we also have completed contracts to the United States, Cameroon, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
Our experience is one of the factors that help us in attracting foreign clients. As an organization, Expom can boast a 65-year uninterrupted history of activity. The second important factor is the set goals in terms of expansion into foreign markets, which we consistently implement as a company. It requires patience and persistence, and often many hours of concept work and difficult trial production – our clients are looking for a reliable and trustworthy partner, and trust needs time.
How is Expom dealing with the shipment of structures to such distant corners of the world? It certainly requires a large logistic base. Do you recall any particularly demanding shipments?
It is really a demanding matter, especially with such dynamically growing sales as Expom has recorded in the last few years. Every year, the company carries out about a thousand demanding projects, which often, apart from the steel structure itself, also include equipping with additional elements and systems. Often, complete end products – e.g. very large cranes – leave our factory. This is when really serious logistical challenges begin. A good example is a crane weighing more than 50 tons shipped to Dubai. The coordination of activities was multifaceted, because such huge structures leave on a few oversized trucks, under the cover of night, with the assistance of pilots and on national roads excluded from traffic. The entire operation takes many hours and is very expensive. The transport has to reach the port at a certain time as it would be a huge cost to stop a container ship in the port. Besides, the convoy cannot wait too long either. All logistics is also closely related to environmental protection, which is our priority. A crane is a device in which, during tests, there are hectoliters of hydraulic oil. Before transport, this oil must be removed from the tanks and the structure properly secured. In addition, it is necessary to establish customs matters and even such detailed issues as those related to approvals for wood protecting the steel structure, which must meet certain standards in order to leave the continent. We deal with such challenges mainly thanks to the experience and dynamic team that operates at Expom, based on the project management model.
What makes Polish companies, including Expom, active on foreign markets and competitive in demanding industries?
Behind everything is the right people and knowledge, as well as a written action plan in the form of a strategy. I think that, as Poles, we are ready to quickly acquire new knowledge, which means that often Polish companies are able to act dynamically and flexibly, but also with high quality standards. Taking up difficult challenges of Polish companies is not scary, despite the fact that orders are often very technically complex, and their implementation must be carried out according to restrictive standards and, which is sometimes the most stressful, within a specific time frame for a given project. Imagine the consequences of a delay in the execution of, for example, a crane that is to work on a large transport ship, which has only a few days’ stoppage at a specific port planned more than a year in advance to allow the crane to be installed. Undertaking such projects is our everyday life, but I think that ambition and courage are simply the features of Poles and domestic companies that allow us to win on international markets. Over the last few years, Polish enterprises have made a name for themselves in the world of reliable producers and trusted partners.
Expom specializes in the production of compact and machine-built lifeboats, heavy cranes for drilling platforms and rotary davits for offshore wind farms. How do you rate Polish competition in this area? She’s not too numerous, is it?
What distinguishes Expom is the fact that, within our own production resources, we can build such structures from start to finish – creating a complete final product, which is additionally subjected to restrictive tests at a specialized test stand. It should also be added that, for example, lifting structures are made under the supervision of specialized external certifying institutions. Taking into account the experience, technical knowledge, comprehensiveness and the ability to carry out production according to specific norms and standards, we actually operate in a fairly small group of companies in the country.
One of Expom’s products are structures intended for use in difficult conditions, enriched with an anti-collision and anti-corrosion system. Can you tell me more about them?
The end products that leave Expom, e.g. lifting equipment, are very complex products. This is due to the so-called anti-collision systems, which, according to international regulations, must be installed in many units. Their key task is to protect the crane against collision with other devices installed on the ship or platform. These systems significantly increase the operational safety of the crane itself and its operating staff. Our technologists must start the analysis of such complex devices at the beginning of each project of this type in the technology office. The final step is to check if the system is working properly. For this purpose, we conduct tests, thanks to which, after connecting the electrical systems, we verify whether the equipment is safe for future users.
What are the most interesting and demanding projects that Expom has completed so far? Which ones would you like to show off in particular?
All our projects are interesting and challenging in a way. Among the exceptional ones, I can mention the production of large-size stators for electric machines weighing 52 tons or the production – as a complete and final product – of a set of lifts for offshore wind farms. I also remember the task of producing over 100 tons of very demanding sets for machines related to laying pipes for the gas industry in a few weeks – such projects show how enormous strength lies in a well-coordinated team.
The Expom company has its own technological and construction office, as well as five production halls with a total area of 6,500 m2 with a machine park. Please tell me more about him.
The company regularly allocates millions of dollars to investments in infrastructure and new machines. The last five years have been crucial for Expom, when we have significantly modernized the machinery park. Currently, the company has machines for large-scale machining with a weight of up to 63 t, where machining tolerances are obtained at the level of several hundredths of mm / m. We have multi-axis machining centers and an extensive plastic processing park. In fact, the entire technological process – from thermal cutting to anti-corrosion, assembly of hydraulic and electrical systems and testing – is carried out at Expom. We have made huge investments in each of the production cells in the last five years. In addition to machining, it is also worth noting investments in a professional paint chamber, which allows to meet Frosio and Norsok standards, and an increase in the lifting capacity to the level of 30 t. Expom’s production capacity is constantly and coordinated. The next large investments are scheduled for this year.
The idea of sustainable development plays an important role in the management of Expom SA. Please tell me how Expom fits into the assumptions of the recently so important concern for the natural environment.
It is indeed a very important element of our policy. Therefore, we have recently increased our spending on broadly understood environmental protection. We are a company that meets international standards in this area, and the best verifier of this are our Scandinavian customers – pioneers in the field of environmental protection. Without a high culture in this area, such a wide cooperation would not be possible, as we are doing today with companies from this region. Investment outlays are one thing, but we also focus on the education of our staff. Only in recent quarters, we have launched several internal employee programs, most of which are aimed at increasing the awareness of all of us as a crew and improving the comfort and working conditions at Expom. Our programs have been widely appreciated not only by the employees, but also by other Expom stakeholders, and the culmination of this are the numerous awards we received in the last year and in the first half of 2017.
Can you show, using the example of Expom, how to create both an ambitious and realistic company strategy and turn it into operational activity and achieving the assumed goals?
The strategy was created as a result of a series of strategic workshop sessions attended, apart from the management board, by members of the supervisory board and shareholders of Expom SA. Based on the collected ideas, the company’s vision in the future, the experiences of key people in the company, we have written a coherent document that contains answers to the questions “what?” and “how?”. We are not afraid to indicate the goals we set for ourselves – that’s why we also wrote down specific numbers. For now, we are implementing the planned strategy. This is mainly due to the fact that we have created a document that we return to from time to time and update. It is in itself a guide that keeps the company on track. The second important issue is the involvement of people in the implementation of the strategy – so that it does not remain just a “dead” document. It is very important that people who work in their positions know why certain things are happening and how their work can affect the results of the entire company. This generates employee commitment and the opportunity to look at a wider perspective, which in turn often makes it easier to overcome everyday challenges. It’s like this story about people stacking heavy stones. When asked what he was doing, one of the workers replied: “I work and carry terribly heavy stones all day,” and another, doing the same job, replied: “We are building an exceptionally beautiful temple in this place.”
How has the company been developing in recent years? What investments have the state made to increase the company’s production capacity and its competitiveness?
Recent years have been a period of positive changes at Expom. We have significantly expanded the sales department to intensify the company’s presence on key foreign markets, in countries that are strategic from our perspective. In addition, we have invested large amounts of money in modernizing the machine park and plant infrastructure. Currently, we are continuing to invest in the factory infrastructure and additionally increased the production area. In addition, we nurture the aforementioned series of programs increasing the efficiency of management of individual areas of activity, so as to better control and manage the number of projects that grow every year. Some decisions were necessary, we matured for others, and others were very difficult, but in retrospect they brought the company big benefits. I think that the synergy between the company’s management board and the supervisory board was helpful in our dynamic growth, which allowed us to effectively use and combine market and technical knowledge with the rich business experience of individual key people managing the company or influencing its future. It is also worth adding that the core of the staff has remained unchanged over the last few years, although of course the crew is expanded with new people.
What are Expom’s plans for the nearest future?
We are not resting on our laurels. First of all, we want to continue the upward trend and we have specific ideas for this, which will mean that the coming years will not differ from the previous few, i.e. we intend to continue investing in the machinery park, we will focus even more on the development of middle-level management, as well as on presence in key markets for us.