W&O takes the guesswork out of distribution, supply and the marine manufacturing environment.
In the busy U.S. Gulf Coast shipbuilding sectors, W&O Supply remains active within four very strong markets: navy marine, commercial marine, marine offshore and offshore fabrication. Even with the uncertainty surrounding sequestration, business in the Gulf continues to be strong, as well as diversified. With major shipyards in the region continuing to receive contracts for follow-on vessels, the opportunity for continued success is therefore very good. Nevertheless, and not content to sit back and do ‘business as usual,’ W&O continues to look for new ways to do business, with new products and further enhance their offerings to the marine markets.
As one of the better recognized names in the marine distribution markets, W&O and its management team remain bullish on the near and long term outlook for the boatbuilding sectors. In October, W&O Gulf Coast Regional Manager Debbie Garner sat down with MarineNews to outline how her firm will do business going forward, why and more importantly how.
Markets & Demand
According to Garner, the demand for materials sand products in commercial marine markets, especially new-build, maintenance and retro-fitting projects, is very strong. In the marine offshore/offshore fabrication sector, she says, fabrication yards are continually producing more rigs, resulting in an increased demand for supply vessels. As a result of this chain reaction, Gulf Coast Crude Oil Production is up 18.49% from last year.
Employed with W&O since 1992 and with valuable experience gleaned from her previous position as Purchasing Agent for a major shipbuilding corporation, W&O’s New Orleans-based Gulf Coast Regional Manager – also educated in Mechanical Engineering Technology – has her finger on the pulse of the all-important Gulf coast marine markets. Responsible for analyzing price and delivery dates, locating products, and providing a high level of service while also managing quoting process and turnaround, she clearly has her hands full.
“The shipyards are our favorite place to go and I would say it is our biggest strength. We have such a wide range of products that we can sell in the shipbuilding field, from start to finish. So, what we do when we get a lead from the owners side or our marketing department, we begin to talk to all sections and departments of the shipyard – production and engineering. We then begin to build a solutions list for the type of vessel involved. This might involve special valves and actuators or special piping arrangements – anything that would make the job go faster and in a turnkey fashion.”
Turnkey service, as it turns out, is what W&O is selling. Garner explains, “It used to be that a shipyard would buy a valve from one source, an actuator from another and they would leave it up to their own force to do assembly and integration. That’s what W&O can now do. We can provide that onsite technician. For example, the way valves communicate with control equipment has gotten much more complicated. The typical shipyard worker may not be familiar with that. So, we can go in with technicians to provide test and trial support right through commissioning.”
New Products: Valuable Service
In another development, W&O now has the exclusive arrangement to distribute the only USCG and ABS-approved CPVC pipe on the market. For owners who can lighten their piping systems by using plastic in places where they wanted to in the past, but couldn’t do it because it wasn’t allowed, the new products provide many advantages. Garner added, “We’re excited about this product and two or three others that we’re going to be distributing.”
W&O – already known for being a global supplier of marine pipe, valves and fittings, as well as valve actuation and engineered solutions – has been selected by Georg Fischer Piping Systems as its Preferred Distributor in North America for its SeaCor Engineered Plastic Piping System. SeaCor is the only USCG approved plastic piping system in the world that meets IMO A753 (18) part 5, low flame spread and IMO A753 (18) part 2, low smoke and toxicity. The plastic piping system can be installed in concealed spaces and eliminates the need to meet the additional requirements of 46 CFR 56.60-25 (a) (2), which requires smoke detectors for plastic pipes in these spaces. SeaCor piping is lightweight, easy to install and maintain, has ABS type approval, and is manufactured entirely in the United States.
“This is a solution we have been looking to provide our customers for almost a decade,” said Senior Product Manager Steve Hartsaw. “Georg Fischer has developed the capabilities and technology to meet USCG regulations. We are proud to partner with them to bring SeaCor to market.”
For W&O, the piping deal is a logical move. As a company that in part made its reputation by being a reliable valve provider and solutions firm, the piping that joins those valves is a natural place to go. With this in mind, Garner indicated that W&O will focus more offerings for engineroom assemblies. Beyond this, and with the belief that the sector will continue to be active into 2014, a number of long term projects are on W&O’s Radar, some involving offshore living quarters.
As MarineNews went to press, ballast water treatment (BWT) systems were and still are one of the hottest items for discussion on the marine markets.
Although not yet being produced in great volume as owners and shipyards feel their way through deciding which one is the best system for a particular type or size of vessel, there is considerable fear that manufacturing and yes, distribution may not be able to keep up with demand, once the rush to install begins.
Arguably, distribution companies can help allay fears that shipyards and owners won’t be able to get the systems they need when they need it. With 63 technologies out there – some not so well known – distribution partnerships may be the way to go. Many newer technologies and firms do not yet have market access or the commercial “Intel” to penetrate the market.
With as many as 40,000 ships out there potentially needing BWT, the market is huge – but the question of how to penetrate it and get product into distribution remains unanswered for many manufacturers, a good percentage of which are new to the marine markets.
Certainly, the ability to stockpile readily available BWT units for immediate delivery would be an attractive proposition for most. And although no BWT manufacturers have yet taken the step to secure a reliable, well-known distributor for their wares, it seems inevitable that it will eventually have to happen.
According to Garner, another major focus for W&O includes the major tank barge builders in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Indiana. Garner insists, “This market is going to be very strong in the near future. Builders are aiming to build more barges next year than they’ve ever produced before.
We’re already seeing that demand in the valves because W&O is already the most widely specified valve in the inland tank barge industry. Most of the primary builders only want the W&O Space valve, which has proven performance in handling these bulk cargoes.”
W&O’s multi-turn gate valve is used in all manners of cargo systems and W&O has modified the valve so that it operates optimally in a tank barge environment. Garner told MarineNews, “With this product – we target both the owner and the shipyard. Operators and shipyards want a valve that’s going to hold up for many years and a distribution company that’s going to back it up. That’s the Space valve line and that’s W&O. And, when you distribute a valve that’s preferred by so many, it then occurs to the customers to keep it simple and standardize on one product line.”
Challenges ... and Opportunities, too.
Some of W&O’s best partnerships stem from U.S. Navy and Coast Guard work. And, while some of those vessels may get cut from federal funding, that part of the business is likely to remain very strong for the next 3 to 5 years. Garner says, “We are very involved with the LCS project, going all the way back to the design phase back in 2003. We feel that we were helpful in guiding them as to the right products to go into their piping systems. As a result, we’ve remained a strong partner ever since. We stock a good amount of Milspec products to meet that demand.”
“We’re bullish on the Navy in the Gulf,” adds Garner. Going along with that, the foreign markets have provided W&O with opportunities for foreign navy valve buys. It is here where W&O’s versatility and healthy inventories come into play. Garner explains further, “When you talk about foreign navies and the Joint High Speed Vessels and the Coast Guard’s newer hulls, those are mostly ABS approved valves. That’s another benefit of working with W&O – we can walk into a yard with a portfolio of both to be able to fit the needs of wide and varied market requirements.”
As shipyards continue to experience difficulties in finding skilled labor, W&O can step in and help in terms of technical assistance. But, that’s a challenge for W&O, as well. Garner reports that, as W&O expands and grows further, they also have to work hard to find qualified engineers and skilled technical personnel. And, the global slowdown in manufacturing affected the ability of shipyards to source products and stock – that’s still going on today. Garner has an answer for that, too.
“An advantage of dealing of W&O is that we can stock entire shipsets of pipe – not a lot of distributors can compete with us in this regard. Shipyards want just-in-time shipments and they don’t want to keep anything in their yards a day longer than they have to. It’s all about time and the costs involved with stocking parts and materials. We err on the side of having too much inventory – prepackaged and ready to go. In the case of a yard on the Gulf coast, we’ll keep that entire shipset of piping in our warehouse. We can ship 20 feet of piping today; 20 feet tomorrow. Whatever the customer needs.”
Market Access: The Right Way
As other industrial sectors experienced downturns in recent years, many turned to the marine markets as a way of boosting sales and expanding their horizons. Many, however, don’t know the market as well as they should or simply don’t have the relationships in place to do just that. It’s here where W&O can help, says Garner. “It makes sense to distribute through us because we have been around a long time; we have the established relationships with the builders and owners, too. This is especially important where other industrial sectors slowed down in recent years and the manufacturers looked to other sectors for their products to penetrate. Those not traditionally in the marine markets may turn to us in order to get their products introduced to the right buyers. That’s why they are coming to W&O.” From where we sit, that also sounds like the right thing to do.
(As published in the November 2012 edition of Marine News - www.marinelink.com)