Fender failure can be avoided with shrewd purchasing and better sector regulation. Dave and Iain MacIntyre report
Are fender manufacturers in general improving their standards of testing to agreed international standards, and publishing their test results, or is the fender market an area where ports still embrace substandard designs?
That topic prompts heated debate among the top fender players, who are pointed in their criticism of some of the practices in the industry. Moreover, the advice from experts consulted by Port Strategy is that ports can easily make wrong decisions.
Scott Smith, regional director (Asia Pacific) of Trelleborg Marine Systems, says that despite the existence of PIANC fender design guidelines, robust testing of rubber and steel is hit and miss.
“Unlike a few select manufacturers in the market, the vast majority of suppliers don’t carry out materials testing in the laboratory and the factory, and certainly do not perform full-scale model testing as a matter of routine.
“The laboratory and product tests are both essential, but trading companies are not prepared to invest in the time, resources and expertise needed to fulfil this as part of their routine quality control. Ports need to reassure themselves that such testing has been performed or, essentially, they could be throwing good money after bad.”
QuayQuip director Mike Harrison is equally damning of industry practices in relation to the main international protocols, PIANC 2002 and ASTM F-2192-05. Both require a whole series of tests at different speeds, temperatures and angles.
Says Mr Harrison: “Type approval certifications are for production at a specific factory. Some companies move factories and don’t bother with retesting.
“This wouldn’t be allowed for ISO 9001 or ISO 14001, so why should PIANC/ASTM Type Approval be any different? Some companies have chosen to ignore whole sections of the type approval process. Still more firms can show you nothing but the simplest QC (performance verification) test results. They don’t even begin to meet the PIANC/ASTM protocols.”
The downside of accepting lesser standards can be extremely costly and embarrassing for ports.
Maritime International Inc marketing manager Brent Lassere says that this year, his company has had "a number of new clients contact us regarding fenders they had purchased from another vendor that, on paper, adhered to the required specifications, but these fenders quickly failed, some even before they were installed.
“Unfortunately without strict testing requirements and highly-enforced specifications, a company can simply provide all the necessary documentation for a high-quality fender system, and then supply a low-quality product.
“This has been the climate of the fender industry for some time now and we expect this cycle to continue. We believe the only way to win this battle is to continue operating as we always have, providing a high-quality product and more importantly establishing a sense of trust with our clients.”
Trelleborg’s Scott Smith says a key problem is that buyers and specifiers are susceptible to a “cheap deal.
“This is being exploited by an influx of unscrupulous traders with limited technical or manufacturing capability.
“The net result is deception of customer’s business which is duped – willingly or otherwise – into buying something that is essentially too good to be true. And those clients that are accepting a lower cost or ‘off the shelf’ product, which claims to equal or surpass premium product performance, are either deceiving themselves or putting their investment and port facility at risk.”
One problem is that progress is slow towards adopting an agreed standard to guide the design of fender systems globally.
QuayQuip’s Mike Harrison, who co-chairs PIANC Working Group 145, says part of the reason for this is that when standards are raised, it increases the demand for skilled engineers. However many good people have left the industry in the last few years.
Trelleborg on the other hand doesn’t believe that the content of current design guidelines is the issue. The real problem is the need for better regulation and enforcement of current standards.
“In our experience, PIANC’s good name is essentially being taken in vain by traders that are unethically, and perhaps illegally, claiming certification for product derivatives and manufacturing locations that are not endorsed by the organisation.
“They’re essentially applying the same certification to multiple products and factories with different performance characteristics, which is arguably dangerous and certainly malpractice.
“This is not a criticism of the PIANC organisation itself — it has a wide remit with limited powers and resource at its disposal. But, clearly, the industry needs much closer regulation of the design, manufacturing, testing and installation of fendering systems, which will take time to materialise.”
Maritime International’s Brent Lassere says his company welcomes the idea of a set standard to fender design, but again, these standards would need to be strictly enforced — “So the real question is will the end users adopt and enforce these standards?”
Given that the buck stops with the port executives, are they taking heed of advice that bespoke solutions are a safer option than relying on off-the-shelf solutions?
A bespoke design considers the different user profiles at each location, local environment and tide levels, and other factors. Design, concepts and components must be carefully fitted to each locale, which is why the “cut and paste” approach may not work.
Cavotec MoorMaster group product manager Mike Howie says his firm works closely with customers to develop automated mooring systems to meet individual requirements of specific applications.
“A good example of this work is our continued co-operation with the St Lawrence Seaway in Canada that is using four specially-adapted MoorMaster units designed to hold vessels in place through changes in water level of up to 14 metres.”
Mr Howie adds that Cavotec is seeing a shift in focus from initial purchase cost to life cycle cost structures with MoorMaster customers in particular.
QuayQuip director Rob Gabbitas says tailored designs are important but they aren’t the whole story.
“Our customers prefer to deal with a manufacturer offering very high levels of design and product insurance, and who can deploy a technical team around the world at short notice.
“Clients want direct access to engineering know-how and to discuss their exact requirements. There is no room to cut corners. This is a safety-critical business where lives, structures and businesses are at stake.’
Are ports taking these lessons to heart?
Maritime International’s Brent Lassere says that ultimately, it is the port executives who have to take responsibility for their choices.
“Maritime International continues to go above and beyond what is required of a fender manufacturing company in regards to engineering, design assistance and performance testing.
“We strive to educate port owners and consultants on the importance of a properly-engineered fendering system, but ultimately it is up to the port owners and consultants to adopt a set of standards to regulate the quality of the products being supplied.”
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