A clear view on water management
Founded in 1885, Smals started out as a gravel dredging company, continuing and growing in this line of business until World War II. After most of the dredging equipment was destroyed or confiscated during the war, Smals re-emerged as a company that combined gravel and sand dredging with the development of lakes for natural and recreational purposes.
By the end of the 1960s Smals designed a plan for a large production site adjacent to its head office in Cuijk, near Nijmegen. In 1970 the company started the execution of this versatile long term project in the Kraaijenbergse Plassen. In addition to the dredging of sand and gravel, the project involved a long-term upgrade of the entire area, including an extensive new residential area, flood protection and the enhancement of the nature reserve. The project continued for more than forty years and proved to be vital in the development and growth of Smals – Royal Smals, as of 2015.
“We don’t fight against water, instead we work with water. We are not afraid anymore.”
In 2013 Smals’ focus shifted from the Dutch market for gravel and sand towards an international market for integrated water management projects. Shortly before that, Smals took over Klaar, a company that specializes in sludge dredging. Klaar’s activities proved to be a perfect match with dredging contractor Geluk, which was already part of the Royal Smals group. Applying the expertise of both Geluk and Klaar, Royal Smals has developed a specialised approach of inland water works. Deliberately keeping away from sea harbour and coastal works, Smals is the first supplier to offer smart integrated solutions for environmental dredging in inland waters. The extended activities and integrated concept are already proving successful, as Royal Smals is currently active in many European countries.
Frans van der Linden, CEO of Royal Smals, explains how his company manages to stand out in a competitive market. “When we are searching for new projects, we are well aware of the fact that our added value is in the expertise and experience we have in linking waterworks to environmental enhancement. Smals Dredging, a division of Royal Smals, has the knowledge to recycle contaminated sludge and use it to reinforce flood prevention barriers and river banks. In the Kraaijenbergse Plassen we have been dredging sand and gravel for many years, while at the same time we were building tunnels for badgers, an endangered animal in the Netherlands.”In emerging economies the importance of inland waterways and water systems grows rapidly, usually quickly followed by the need for inland water management. That’s where Dutch companies like Royal Smals, known for the expertise and experience they have built over the years, come into view. Van der Linden: “Obviously we are ahead of the competition. But we have to work hard every day to stay in that position. Once you take it for granted, other countries and companies will catch up with you.”
The sand standard
After the start of the Kraaijenbergse Plassen project, Smals came up with a revolutionary method to classify various types of sand. Before that, sand and gravel came to the surface and were treated and processed without any form of differentiation. As the concrete industry became more complex, Smals introduced the very first classification installation, separating several sand densities. Moreover the company created sand standards and a supporting certification system. Up until this day the classification that was initiated by Smals enables customers to obtain exactly the kind of sand to match their specific production needs.
The fact that Royal Smals is a family-owned company is more than just an interesting fact. “It is an essential influence on the way we go about our business,” says Van der Linden. “We are not in it to make quick profits, but to make sure we will still be around in thirty years from now. This long-term perspective enables us to invest in our structure, anticipating future assignments.”
India and Brazil
For a couple of years now, Royal Smals has been looking towards new markets outside Europe, specifically India and Brazil. Van der Linden: “We prepare our activities there very carefully. We take our time to build local relationships, to get to know the conditions and procedures, to hire local staff and to find business partners who are capable and reliable. We intend to contribute not only to the environment, but also to the local economy. Of course we bring in our expertise and a number of employees, but to that we add local staff whenever we can. By hiring and training a local workforce, we raise the level of skills and knowledge, offering new opportunities for local communities, even beyond our operations.”
Working with water
An important part of Royal Smals’ success comes from their particular view on water management. We don’t fight against water,” says Van der Linden. “Instead we work with water. We are not afraid anymore.”