In what little free time they have, a lot of work is currently being done in the warehouse of boiler maintenance company Van der Mark in the Dutch town of De Lier. There is an old boiler in there that needs to be spic and span by the end of the year. By that time the new building, located a bit further down the road in De Lier, will be finished, and the boiler is to be placed in a glass case to serve as the new eyecatcher. Erwin van der Mark, together with his brother, owner of the family business: “We will have a company space there that will be twice as big as the previous one, but above all, we will have more office space. Which is something we desperately need, because the stricter safety requirements also mean more paperwork.”
Erwin with the boiler from 1914
Erwin van der Mark, together with his brother Hans, owner of the now fifty-year-old family company, knows the enormous administrative strain from the industry, where the company also works on a lot of boiler maintenance. But even in greenhouse horticulture, where about twenty percent of the profits come from, the requirements are becoming stricter. “Take geothermal projects that have been set up industrially, for example, going in and taking a look around is just not done anymore. This is different in the case of growers. What we do is combining that industrial knowledge with the greenhouse horticulture mentality of the Dutch Westland, and it is working great.”
How many pipes does your father have?
The company has now finished the first maintenance on a geothermal installation, and in the years to come, Erwin expects to get much more maintenance jobs. Not only with geothermal installations, but with biomass boilers, that have been set up industrially, as well. However, it’s still mainly ‘normal’ boilers that require maintenance. “No longer do we use the oil-fired boilers like there were when the company started, but even the boilers that we had since the expansion in the 1990s, are considered old by today's standard.”
Through the years, Erwin has seen more and more boilers disappear, and the boilers that replaced them kept getting bigger and bigger. “Back in the heydays, there might have been four thousand boilers in the Westland alone. It was the time of the old local saying ‘how many pipes does your father have’.” Now there are only about five hundred left, according to Erwin. “Boilers will never totally disappear, but there will definitely be less of them. At the same time, it just might become the case that we will be the only maintenance company left.”
An artist's impression
Once a year a boiler 'MOT' has to take place, even for boilers equipped with the most advanced technology. Because of this, the peak time for maintenance engineers is in the summer and from October to December in which many growers have their crop rotation. “Good maintenance makes boilers less susceptible to malfunction and a well-maintained boiler burns cleaner, which is not only good for the environment but for the grower's wallet as well.”