The journey from oil platform to observation wheel

KCI the Engineers, Oceanteam’s subsidiary, designed world’s biggest observation wheel, the 200+ metre-high Ain Dubai. Previously, KCI engineered 135 m and 180 m big wheels in London and New York’s Staten Island. How did KCI get involved in the Wheels business? Meet Marc Groenendijk, managing director at KCI. Groenendijk started his career at in 2005 as a senior engineer and calls himself a 'hardcore engineer'. Currently, he leads a team of over 100 employees, including the Wheels division. "An observation wheel is a true landmark; it really speaks to everyone's imagination."
What was your first job at KCI?
“I started as a member of the team that designed t enormous ‘Pioneering Spirit’ vessel, developed by Edward Heerema’s company Allseas, which can remove offshore production platforms. I still remember the thrill you get when you can actually touch and feel your design, and see that everything you developed together really works!”
How would you describe yourself as a professional?
“I see myself primarily as a team player, looking for out-of-the-box solutions together with my planners and engineers. KCI is all about cooperation. Within the company, but it also involves teaming up with other companies. We are currently involved in the development of an observation wheel in New York in collaboration with Mammoet and Huisman, for instance.”
What is KCI’s greatest strength?
“We are quite good at analysing all sorts of problems huge steel structures encounter, such as ocean currents, towering waves at sea and whirlwinds on land. We calculate the dynamic behaviour, also called fatigue behaviour, of steel. If you bend a paper clip often enough back and forth, it will break. But you can’t let that happen to an observation wheel! That’s why we then translate these calculations into 3D drawings that allow us to look at a construction from every side and angle. Based on these calculations, we know if proper maintenance is possible and if parts can be easily replaced. And whether the construction is sustainable: is it possible to dismantle and reuse it any time in the future?”
KCI started designing oil and gas production platforms in 1987. By now the company is mainly active in the offshore wind industry and in the design of observation wheels. Can you explain this shift?
"Moving from designing oil production platforms to the offshore wind industry is a logical step, because it also takes place at sea. The offshore wind industry is booming and turbines must withstand the same sea conditions. Now we work on entire wind farms at sea. Observation wheels are a different story. At some point, we were asked to help design the London Eye. That success led to a commission to design the Berlin Wheel. That project was postponed due to the economical crisis, but the planning permission is still in place.
In the meantime, we have been involved in the design of six wheels and still counting. Ain Dubai is now under construction. Measuring a whopping 260 meters in size, it is our latest flagship project. On Staten Island in New York we have developed a smaller wheel based on the same principles. That might already be finished within one year and a half. "
What is so special about Ain Dubai, besides the dimensions?
“In Dubai we are responsible for both the project engineering and the construction supervision. We have a dedicated KCI team on site so we can figure out a solution immediately once a problem occurs during the construction phase. In addition, the Dubai authorities wanted a completely transparent wheel with a minimal usage of steel. Unfortunately, the soil conditions of the artificial island did not allow that, and we couldn’t support it effectively with cables. So we developed a special slide bearing - a real innovation. Now we have a KCI team stationed there permanently to translate any issues that arise on site straight into solutions. The whole world is watching how we deliver there. This wheel is a true landmark; it really appeals to everyone's imagination."
More on KCI’s Wheels division