Building a brand

As the sole brand for high performance aluminium alloy vessels built and exported in China, ‘Afai’ ships are held in high repute around the world. These vessels are delivered through the Afai Southern Shipyard (Panyu Guangzhou) Ltd, which was founded in 1992 and has since seen its assets reorganised in 2004 by the China Shipbuilding Industry Co-operation (CSIC) and China Shipping Group (China Shipping). Since the reorganisation, the company shareholders have made great efforts to rebuild the management structure of Afai in order to progress its development.

Afai is located in Guangzhou, the largest city in south China, at the eastern side of Xinguang Bridge and the south bank of the Pearl River main channel, which makes it very convenient for vessel traffic. The yard itself is 52,000 square metres with two modern steel-structured ship-berth workshops, and three modern fabrication workshops. Afai also possesses 370 metres of shoreline along the river, which is broken down into a 90-metre outfitting quay, a 30 by 90-metre dry dock, and 3500 square metres of warehousing, production and office facilities.

The company has built up its facilities for cutting and processing aluminium materials to be able to meet the production demands for building a number of vessels at the same time. As such, its workshops boast advanced CNC plasma cutting machines, over 150 pieces of TIG and MIG aluminium welding equipment, X-ray cameras, and laser distance measuring instruments. More uniquely in its market, Afai has the capacity to weld aluminium alloy plates up to a maximum welding thickness of 100 millimetres. The company’s construction workmanship processes for automatic splicing of aluminium plates and extruded panels, amongst others, have all passed inspection by China Classification Society (CCS), Bureau Verital (BV) and Det Norske Veritas (DNV).

Afai is focused on researching, designing and building high performance aluminium alloy ships, which has made it a leader in its domestic market for fast ferries, public vessels, and professional rescue boats. In recent years, Afai has built over 40 full aluminium alloy catamaran ships, and has an annual production capacity of around eight ships at 40-metres length. However, Afai has the capacity to build aluminium alloy ships of up to 100-metres long, and has delivered 80 and 85-metre ferries in the past.

“Currently we are building eight different vessels including 49.9-metre long coastal fast rescue vessels, fast ferries of 36 to 42-metres for export, and a 35-metre domestic luxury fast public ferry,” begins Wu Mingyi, general manager of Afai. “Relying on our own superiorities in talent and technology, as well as the application and mastering of new manufacturing processes, Afai has targeted the new trend of passenger transportation and the public vessel market.

“We have fully utilised our existing technicians and facilities to contract a number of high-tech and added value product orders for aluminium alloy luxury fast ferries, ro-pax ferries, city sightseeing vessels, professional rescue boats, and small yachts, for the international and domestic markets. In 2009, we signed a long-term strategic co-operation agreement with Damen shipyards under which we have built more than 20 ferries including 85-metre ro-pax ferries, 100 passenger city sightseeing vessels, and 312 and 448 passenger fast ferries. These have been exported to regions as diverse as Singapore, Turkey, Dubai, Canada, and South Korea. Furthermore we have united with internationally recognised design firms such as Incat Crowther to design and built four advanced performance vessels,” he continues.

Afai has also established crucial close relationships with international top-rate equipment suppliers such as MTU Hongkong and MJP, which provide ongoing support to the company on technology and service aspects. Afai works together with these businesses from product design through building and commissions to after-sale service in order to not only improve efficiency but also provide customers with the best possible products and services.

“We strive to continuously improve and raise the building quality of our vessels to ensure that they meet top international standards,” comments Wu. “We have also invested in a number of capital ventures in order to improve the capabilities of our research and design into new ships, and to promote our technology and product performance at a higher level.

“In the aspect of design and development we have formed our own innovation system, which takes our technology centre at its core, and supported by our other resources, explores and develops new vessel type concepts. As such we have created vessels with advanced technical performance and good economic efficiency such as those we designed for coastal fast passenger transportation in the Pearl River Delta,” he elaborates.

New strides have also been taken in Afai’s control of welding workmanship as variation in these parameters during the construction of marine aluminium alloys affects the welding quality significantly. Therefore, after a number of tests, practices and research, Afai has established one set of accurate workmanship parameters and complete documents to guide its employees during construction. This includes strict control of the welding electrical current and arc voltage, especially the flow and purity of protection Argon, as well as cleaning before welding, and general procedure. This has been approved by CCS, BV, and DNV, and will serve to ensure the welding quality on the construction of hulls, piping systems, and superstructures.

“In terms of daily management we pay attention to the role of our staff in the company’s development process, as we can only develop with a stable, skilled workforce,” describes Wu. “Therefore in the last few years, even with the tough market conditions, we have not laid off a single member of staff. By establishing a secure personnel team we are able to steadily build upon our product quality.”

Afai’s success to date means that the business is planning to establish further production capacity in order to meet with customers’ requests for new vessels, which are currently on the rise. Likewise, this investment will sit alongside the company’s ambition to shift its organisation and management model closer towards internationalisation.

“Because aluminium alloy vessels have advantages in terms of high speed, low operation costs, reduced fuel consumption, and lighter weight there is a trend to use this material to build special ships such a crew boats serving offshore petroleum platforms, and support vessels for offshore wind farms. Therefore this presents a significant opportunity for us through co-operation with the petroleum industry enterprises and wind power plant operators to promote our vessels in these applications,” outlines Wu.

In looking ahead, Afai has also drawn up a new corporate development plan based upon the production of 15 to 60-metre superyachts.

“According to our corporate development policy of ‘professional manufacture won by speciality,’ we intend to maintain the brand superiority of our products through high-tech content and sustainable development. Taking our leading position in the domestic market as a starting point, we hope to realise our strategic goal of entering into the first rank ofglobal suppliers of aluminium alloy ships as a truly international company,” concludes Wu.

Specialising in aluminium alloy vessels
Targeting international market
Moving into yacht construction