Managing a successful offshore facility demands mooring equipment that remains reliable in every scenario. Oliver Feuerstein, managing director of Feuerstein, tells World Expro about how his company is investing in new testing facilities to prepare for the manufacture of the next generation of safe and strong mooring products.
Few products nowadays are seriously judged by their invulnerability to wear and tear. Most items that we use on a daily basis are implicitly designed to last only for a limited time, with production being the high point of a service life that inevitably leads to malfunction and disposal. However, there are some products that one cannot afford to see fail. The mooring shackle, for example, is found in most rigging and industrial lifting systems around the world. It has to last: if it doesn't, the whole intricate line of ropes and pulleys, and the equipment it holds, fails with it.
Luckily for its customers, Feuerstein - more commonly known as Feubo - has never seen any of its mooring shackles fail on the job. Its reputation for quality defined by safety is hard-earned, and has given the company room to experiment in delivering increasingly ambitious product solutions to its customers.
"We just produced the world's largest link shackle, much larger than anything else manufactured before," says Oliver Feuerstein, the company's managing director. "We also inaugurate our new test house next month, with Europe's largest fatigue-testing machine."
Feuerstein has been working for the family business since leaving university. After proving himself in the sales department, he began work as a company engineer before acquiring significant management responsibilities.
"Initially, I was given the task of managing the offshore part of the business," he recalls. "When I started, we had an annual turnover of probably DEM100,000-150,000 [around €50,000-75,000]. Now, we have a turnover of €15 million, thanks to enormous growth in that part of the business over the past 20 years. Over that period, we've diversified from delivering solutions for commercial shipping and equipping European naval vessels like minesweepers, to catering for the cruise industry. However, the core of our business remains offshore mooring and lifting."
The company's success in the sector derives from its unyielding commitment to automation at all stages of the design and manufacturing process.
"One of the credos of our company is that we like to automate as much as we can," says Feuerstein. "That way, we can have consistently high quality over large production series of several thousand pieces. Our customers find that one of the main advantages of working with Feubo comes from drawing upon our automated shackle-forging plant - a completely robotised heat-treatment facility that is unique in the industry."
Not only is the facility unique, but the drive for automated machining is a long-standing commitment of Feubo's. The company was the first in the world to rely solely on computer numerical control (CNC) machining during their manufacturing process.
"That's one of the secrets of our success; we attain very consistent dimensions and quality in our products through CNC machining," says Feuerstein. "We apply those methods at the construction and design process, simulating machining at the design stage in order to find out whether we can actually machine those parts on the equipment we have available. In fact, the entire production process is simulated prior to the first part being forged or cast, saving us from having to experiment at the point of manufacture.
"We do all of our engineering in house," he adds. "We've got half a dozen engineers here, able to do 3D designs, FEA calculations and all the other processes required to actually build a long-term mooring product, and we can do that under cost-controlled environments here, in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost.
"We don't have to subcontract any of the work to other companies, and that puts us in a position to react very quickly with great cost-efficiency to customer demands. So as far as competitiveness is concerned, the decision to have our own R&D here is one of the best ideas we ever had."
The success of that decision is embodied in Feubo's latest offering, with the company recently succeeding in building the world's largest lifting shackle.
"We were asked by some very good customers in the Far East to come up with an alternate solution to typical shackle designs that have a wider saddle," says Feuerstein. "One of the things we've done in order to reduce the damage wire rope inflicts upon it is design a saddle that has a drum:diameter ratio approximately 25-30% higher than any existing design. It's one of the safest products currently on the market."
Additionally, the company applies a strict testing regime after the manufacture of all its shackles, to make absolutely sure that the finished products it sends out to consumers have no chance of failing during use.
"It's okay to get preliminary information out of your design software through a fatigue analysis and calculation but, in the end, you want to taste the cake and not just read the recipe," Feuerstein says. "We prove all our claims as to the safety of our products with a physical test, and that's what we're going to do with our new fatigue-testing machine. It can test in and simulate a marine environment, and it's going to be requested by most clients in the future."
This is just as well, since, as a global company, Feubo has to bear in mind the diversity of clients' needs, wherever they might be in the world.
"We have clients operating out of Brazil despite the difficult market conditions there," says Feuerstein. "We've been awarded a couple of worldwide supply contracts with Petrobras close to €12 million. We also see our products being used across the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Sea is still a very important market for us in terms of exploration. And last but not least, for the wire rope solutions and commodity items we also supply, we're looking towards expansion in the Singapore market."
As Feubo looks to the future, the company is seeking to invest further in its testing regime to ensure that it can offer customers mooring products of greater size and durability than ever before.
"Soon, we are going to be able to do in-house load-measuring under load, which is very important for the fatigue calculations themselves," Feuerstein explains. "We're also going to have another break-load test rig supplied over the next 12 months. Currently, we're limited to 2,000t, which is fully sufficient for 95% of the work we do. However, it's the other 5% that we're interested in. The fundamentals of the system are already in our new test house. Once we get the system up and running, we're going to be entirely independent in the marketplace."