Offshore wind farms are optimally placed to maximise the amount of energy captured from the wind, and while this is fantastic in increasing the amount of renewable energy fed into the grid, their geographic position often causes challenging conditions for operations and maintenance.
Suffolk-based Fern Communications (FernCom) are tackling such challenges and is now established as one of the largest suppliers of specialist two-way communication solutions along the east coast of Suffolk. They have been designing, installing, and maintaining offshore communications sites and networks since its inception in 2002.
FernCom has built an extensive hire fleet of ATEX and conventional radios for offshore sites and can service and repair any radio that is currently in use. The company has the technical expertise and knowledge of both the oil and gas industry as well as the renewables industry that enable its experts to offer customers a fast, reliable, and responsive service.
Their Fit 4 Offshore Renewables Journey
In order to become more competitive in the offshore renewables industry, FernCom took part in the Fit 4 Offshore Renewables (F4OR) programme as part of a cohort of businesses in the New Anglia region. Assessment was made and support provided across the programme’s two key strands – the first focused on core business management systems, and the second focused on key competences required for success in the offshore renewable energy industry.
In gaining F4OR accreditation, FernCom now benefits from a level of endorsement from an established, independent body – ORE Catapult. By undertaking the programme, the company has improved its systems and processes from its manufacturing to HSE compliance, all with the common goal of improving productivity.
Through participation in the programme, fellow F4OR cohort member OEG Offshore became aware of the value of the product that the FernCom was offering. FernCom has since been snapped up by OEG Offshore, an offshore cargo containers company based in Aberdeenshire, for an undisclosed sum. The deal will enable the business to focus on innovating systems for wind farms further offshore supported by the larger business, while continuing to support oil and gas during the energy transition.
These successes are also enabling significant and ongoing company growth. FernCom were one of the smallest companies accepted onto the F4OR programme but have proven their metal and have now grown from six to 16 employees since beginning their F4OR journey.
With the bespoke guidance offered on commercial risk management as part of the F4OR programme, FernCom was able to successfully secure a four-year contract with Moray Offshore Windfarm (East) Ltd to support and maintain the Moray East wind farm communications system. In September 2021, the team successfully installed its Wavecom® technology, the offshore digital radio communications system package for Moray East O&M. Wavecom® provides full field coverage of over 9000km² to crew transfer vessels (CTV’s) and construction vessels.
On the back of this success, FernCom was approached by the management team of Moray East to design and deploy MetOcean sensors for the wind farm.
Technical Director, Clive Cushion, said: “The off the shelf offerings did not give Moray East exactly what they wanted so with our can-do attitude we set about deigning a hardware and software bespoke package that encompassed all of the customers’ requirements.”
MetOcean sensors and FernCom’s own software dashboard are now being promoted to the wider offshore renewable industry, and this has formed a new revenue stream for the company.
Assistance was provided to FernCom by both the ‘business excellence’ advisors – the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) – and the ‘sector specific’ advisors – Opergy Ltd. The latter were particularly instrumental in helping FernCom understand the contractual landscape and the potential risks they might face, in securing business agreements.
With this combined suite of support, Fern was able to ensure that both their business management systems were up to scratch, and that they had a clear value proposition to approach the renewables market with. This is an excellent example of what can be achieved by a small and passionate team with a great product.
Clive Cushion, Technical Director at Fern Communication, said:
“Support from the F4OR programme places FernCom on a strong competitive footing to win even more work in the offshore renewable energy industry, and they are more than ready for the journey ahead.”