From Russian gas fields to port expansion on the Thames, Beckett Rankine’s project portfolio takes its marine engineers to unforeseen depths.
Hovering 300m above Russian waters, flares shot from an enraged fisherman below pepper a helicopter bound for one of the world’s biggest gas fields.
Passengers on board duck their heads in their hands and are tossed from side to side as the pilot makes a speedy departure towards his destination in the Arctic circle.
James Bond film
While this may sound like a scene from a James Bond film, it is in fact one of many enthralling tales that the founders of marine engineering practice Beckett Rankine retell as they look back over the three decades since they set the firm up.
Established in the 1980s by Tim Beckett and Gordon Rankine (pictured right and left above), the foundations of the company were in fact dug 130 years before.
Beckett and Rankine are from two families steeped in engineering tradition. The origins of Beckett Rankine date back to 1856 when Sir George Barclays Bruce set up a consultancy practice.
In 1888 Bruce was joined by Rankine’s great grandfather Robert White and Robert White & Partners was born.
Rankine’s grandfather Sir Bruce White then joined the firm in 1919 and the family kept the business running during the Second World War war years, where Rankine’s great uncle Colin White chaired the committee for the prefabricated Mulberry harbours used to facilitate the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Sir George Bruce was ultimately in charge of the Mulberry harbours which enabled the rapid offloading of cargo and soldiers onto the Normandy beaches.
Our history is steeped in marine engineering, designing ports and harbours, doing work on the Thames flood defences and so on
It was during that work that the worlds of Beckett and Rankine first collided as Sir Bruce met Tim Beckett’s father Allan Beckett, who later joined the firm.
Tim then followed his father into the fold and began work as a site engineer in 1977, before Gordon Rankine joined the firm in the mid-1980s. Shortly after, in 1986, Tim and Gordon broke away and set up Beckett Rankine, with Allan kept on as a consultant – the firm they broke away from eventually became part of Hyder Consulting (now part of Arcadis).
“There’s a long history of where we came from,” Rankine explains. “Our history is steeped in marine engineering, designing ports and harbours, doing work on the Thames flood defences and so on, and we carry on in very much the same vein today.”
BeckettRankine is now headquartered in Victoria, London, along with 25 members of staff.
But they are just as likely to be found along the River Thames, where they are currently working on an impressive 20 projects.
For while they are truly a global company – working in Russia, the Middle East and Asia, with a subsidiary company in India – Beckett Rankine has truly conquered the marine engineering market in its home capital.
London Eye marine facilities
Past projects include designing all the marine facilities for the London Eye, as well as preparing the foundation pier designs for the Diamond Jubilee Bridge.
Beckett Rankine’s current projects along the Thames include working for Lendlease on Silvertown Quays, designing new piers for the Thames Clippers river bus service, and refurbishing the jetty at Battesea Power Station.
The firm has also recently completed five cofferdams as part of work on Tideway’s super sewer and is currently working on the marine consents for the Tilbury Two port expansion in Essex.
“In the past we have had around 50% of work overseas, however more recently we have had a lot of work in the UK,” Beckett explains.
“We have a big focus on work in London but we have projects all over.
“We are pushing on the South Coast, trying to replicate some of the success we’ve had in London.”
He adds: “The things that make [the South Coast] interesting are the amount of commercial traffic, leisure traffic, ferries and their terminals as well as the waterfront developments.
We make sure we are strong in a lot of areas, to cater for markets going up and down
“There is the same sort of mix of projects on the South Coast that we are already working on in London, so it is a logical place for us to go.”
And it is Beckett Rankine’s versatility which its founders believe sets its apart from other (larger) consultants.
“We make sure we are strong in a lot of areas, to cater for markets going up and down,” Rankine explains.
“The number of oil and gas projects is currently slightly lower than before but work on offshore wind turbines and monitoring their bases, and working on the port facilities supporting them is now doing well.”
“As a small, boutique consultancy, we are able offer a personal service and deliver a bespoke solution for any project. That is often where we have the edge,” he adds.
This often leads Beckett Rankine down roads they would not have traditionally trodden.
The firm is currently working on a number of preservation projects involving historic ships such as the HMS Belfast in London as well as two historic ships in Hull which took part in the Cod War of the 1970s.
“We have a very strong core of marine consultants here but there are quite a few projects that move to the periphery of what we do and so we pull in someone who is a real expert on that,” Beckett explains.
“We make sure we bring in the right expert on the job. For example on the HMS Belfast we have had to bring in an expert on cathodic protection to prevent corrosion.
“Likewise in Indonesia we have just completed a job for the initial demand analysis for a large container port, and there we brought in two or three people who are real experts on ship forecasting and economics.”
Rankine adds: “That is the benefit of focusing on marine engineering and not being a massive company.
“We don’t have to use the guy down the corridor just because he is on the payroll, we can actually go and get the number one expert for the job, and our clients really appreciate the quality that we can provide by doing it that way.”
Diverse, versatile and yet proven experts in their field, the Beckett Rankine team is living proof that SMEs can successfully deliver major projects.
And in case you were wondering, it was Rankine ducking the Russian flares – it is one of many tales worth hearing in full.
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