SJR Composites: mutual confidence strengthened by a common interest

Rotterdam, 1 July 2020 – Two established manufacturers in the world of storage tanks have decided to join forces. With over a century of experience between them, SJR Group and M.I.P. Megasolutions have launched a new firm as of 1 July 2020: SJR Composites.

As a specialist firm in the tank construction and maintenance segment, SJR has nearly 60 years of experience and enjoys a strong position in the petrochemical industry. Likewise, M.I.P. can rely on around 40 years of experience serving clients in the agricultural sector and industry. Still, the two companies also differ in many respects, the main contrast being their raw material: until now, SJR worked exclusively with carbon steel and stainless steel, while M.I.P. worked with composite.

And now the two companies are pooling their strengths in SJR Composites. Under this name, the partners will be manufacturing large composite tanks with a storage capacity of up to 3,000 m³, predominantly for clients in the petrochemical industry.

How the partnership came about

Some three years ago, Robert Sloot (the CEO of SJR) and Maikel Elst (the CEO of M.I.P.) were introduced to each other by a mutual acquaintance from the sector. The two had an immediate rapport, and over time also developed trust in each other’s business abilities.

Maikel: ‘At the time I was already exploring which options there were to manufacture larger-diameter composite storage tanks. Robert encouraged me and helped me to find a larger production hall in the Netherlands. After outgrowing this location some three years later, I bought a plot of land in Moerdijk for the construction of a large production hall for tanks with a diameter of up to 14 metres.’

Tanks on this scale are mainly interesting to the petrochemical industry, a sector that holds no mysteries for SJR. Robert: ‘Over time, I became increasingly enthusiastic about composite. Its manufacturing process is very advanced and is far more suited to automation than steel.’

It is with good reason that SJR call themselves ‘the tank innovator’. They strive to keep developing and introducing new solutions in the tank construction sector. Which also explains SJR’s interest in composite as a material. Whereas automation in steel tank construction is still in its infancy, it is already firmly established in composite tank construction. Robert: ‘On top of this, steel is at the same point where it was 30 years ago: in terms of material, the scope for development is rather limited. That’s why a closer look at new materials can be so interesting. At the new plant in Moerdijk, we can build tanks with a storage capacity of up to 3,000 m³ – an ideal size for the petrochemical industry. And tapping into this market is where we come in.’

Industry 4.0 

Work on the production hall in Moerdijk, where SJR Composites will be constructing its new tanks, has nearly been rounded off. It’s a high-end, ultra-modern facility. Maikel: ‘The plant has been completely fitted out as an Industry 4.0 environment. Since everything has been extensively automated, we can manufacture 24 hours a day.’

Maikel’s experience in the sector meant that he knew precisely which machines work best for him. Maikel: ‘That’s why I decided to buy a full set of new machines. To me, it’s crystal clear: the infrastructure needs to be premium quality.’

With the new equipment, the management will know exactly who worked when, where and for how long on a specific tank. And they can track online which production stage the unit is currently in. Maikel: ‘Everything’s digital. That definitely has its advantages.’

Composite: its advantages and drawbacks

Over the years, composite has become increasingly recognised as a construction material. Maikel: ‘Initially, it was mainly used by NASA in rocket technology, followed by aircraft construction and car manufacturing. Its development is still in full swing, and our collective knowledge of this material is expanding year by year.’

An SJR Composites tank is made of a polyester resin mixture that has been reinforced with glass fibre – also known by the names GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) or GFRP (glass fibre-reinforced plastic). It is a lightweight and extremely strong and robust type of material. This results both in a lower total mass and an improved insulation value compared to other materials.

Maikel: ‘Composite offers a number of advantages – particularly when you’re dealing with aggressive liquids. Furthermore, in a marine climate, the sea winds and salty air can quickly cause steel to corrode. Composite, on the other hand, doesn’t rust.’

Who do the two picture as the perfect customer for this product? There are a number of client types that could significantly benefit from switching to composite storage tanks. Robert: ‘Many of our clients have their chemicals delivered to them by shipping. These vessels often have a capacity of around 2,500 m³. This was one of our considerations in deciding to manufacture tanks with a maximum capacity of 3,000 m³.’ A lower mass tank can also be transported and installed at a lower cost. In this sense, composite is the more sustainable option.’

And for those truly interested in sustainability and its various guises: composite tanks also have a far smaller environmental footprint than their steel counterparts when it comes to their manufacture. Robert: ‘You’d have to plant 3,700 more trees to compensate for the carbon emissions released while manufacturing a 2,500-m³ steel tank than you would with a composite tank.’

So doesn’t composite have any disadvantages whatsoever? Maikel: ‘If you need to be able to heat the contents to over 100 degrees, steel may be the better option. Theoretically, we can use material that can be heated up to 140 degrees, but the resin involved is very expensive, leading to a rather high-cost tank.’

Careful preparation

While it all sounds very promising, the two partners definitely didn’t rush into the launch of SJR Composites. Ventures like this call for careful preparation. Robert: ‘We first asked a number of reputable parties that will also be co-determining the standard to see whether we weren’t overlooking anything.’ But these parties didn’t find any snakes in the grass either.

In the year running up to the launch, the partners quickly found out they weren’t the first to consider what else could be done with composite. Robert: ‘It came as a pleasant surprise to hear that certain organisations had already been studying composite behind the scenes.’ For example, it turned out that EEMUA had already established a standard for composite tanks: NEN-EN 13121. The two’s enthusiasm for launching the product was further bolstered by the existence of these specifications for composite.

A 360º partnership

Both parties’ knowledge and expertise will play a crucial part in the future success of SJR Composites. The one partner is familiar with the market and has developed the required sales channels, while the other has the required know-how when it comes to the material and production processes.

Still, this partnership goes beyond this. Robert: ‘You also need to pool other strengths, and you need to get your people fired up. For example, we’ve arranged a meeting between our sales teams. And in the near future, our production teams will be meeting too. The various layers in our organisations need to merge to the point that they “understand” each other’s DNA. Only then can you make a product like this a success.’

Maikel adds: ‘We definitely also see eye to eye in this area. And our enthusiasm at both ends has proven very infectious.’

Maikel continues: ‘That’s why we’ve consciously decided to include both our logos on the building’s facade. In this partnership, we as M.I.P. give SJR Composites the “exclusive rights” to tanks larger than 6 metres in diameter, and to specific segments of the market.’

Still, if you are interested in a composite tank with a smaller diameter as a regular SJR client, you can rest assured that it can still be supplied under the SJR name. Maikel: ‘That’s what’s great about this collaboration: we’re both investing in a win-win situation and a long-term business relationship.’ Robert: ‘Our mutual confidence is strengthened by a common interest.