BY Scott Smith, technical director, Trelleborg Marine Systems
The fender and mooring industry has been changing over the last few years, and this has affected the way ports and harbors authorities are served. Unless specifiers understand what has happened to the industry structure, they could be purchasing unsuitable fenders and systems which may invalidate their insurance.
Historically, the fender manufacturers designed and manufactured fenders almost exclusively themselves. They could acquire a precise understanding of a port’s requirements, environment and operating conditions, and then design fender and compound the rubber to meet the stresses it would be exposed to and the expected working life.
In particular, successful rubber compounding and manufacture of such large, composite rubber products requires expertise that is the outcome of years of experience. As well as design of the fender, ensuring that the accessories such as chains and fastening systems meet the load requirements and the marine conditions is another product of on-the-spot experience.
The structure of the fender supply industry has changed recently with an influx of new suppliers who essentially act as a sales desk. Although these are all focused on marketing the fenders, only a few have a design capacity; the result may be the sale of an off-the-shelf product which neither seller nor buyer knows whether it will meet the docking requirements.
These sales suppliers are reliant on third party OEMs, based in developing countries, for manufacture. These OEMS may have little experience of actual port operating requirements other than the bare minimum standards for rubber compounding.
There are also strong indications that, as the cost of raw rubber maintains its level, there is increasing use of inferior low cost bulk filler materials such as recycled and crumbed rubber, which can seriously reduce the fender performance and working life.
The manufacturer may not tell the seller about his methods and compounds testing, certification and approvals etc will not be conducted with the same rigor as if the process was entirely in-house. And is the seller able to offer effective warranties, or have the financial backing to honor them?
So the buyer should be aware that a seemingly budget price for a fender system could end up costing the port far more through fender failure, port and ship damage and loss of revenue as the port’s reputation suffers.