Rising Tide

The outlook for 2017 was looking up at this year’s International WorkBoat Show & Annual Conference

After several years of a declining market, hope was the buzzword at the International WorkBoat Show & Annual Conference (IWBS), held Nov. 30-Dec 2 at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

The largest commercial marine trade show in North America, IWBS annually attracts more than 10,000 people from around the world who work on coastal, inland and offshore waters to network, discover new products and services and learn about evolving issues affecting the commercial maritime industry.

IWBS’ conference sessions and workshops are produced by the company that owns WorkBoat Magazine and WorkBoat.com. They say IWBS attendees spend millions of dollars annually on marine equipment and services, and together represent $2.3 billion in buying power.

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“We’ve got to be here,” said Eric Bollinger, vice president of sales for Bollinger Shipyards, a Lockport, Louisiana-based company that operates shipyards, construction and repair facilities across the state and builds offshore supply vessels, military and government vessels, barges, lift boats, specialty vessels and tugboats. “The WorkBoat Show is a good chance for us to see our customers and meet with our strategic vendors. It’s the venue for all in international maritime to voice concerns, show off their products and services, but to also meet shipbuilding firms, vendors that supply engines, gears and all for the maritime industry. It’s also a good forum for everybody to get together to discuss strategies going forward. This is the place you want to be.”

Bollinger adds that after slipping in recent years, there is hope that the marketplace will soon pick up momentum.

International Exposure

The chance to meet insurance underwriters and brokers from around the world drew the Ellsworth Corp., a Metairie-based insurer, to this year’s IWBS.

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“Every marine vendor worldwide attends this show, selling and demonstrating their products and services,” said Kyle C. Wild, a vice president at Ellsworth. “It exposes us to a whole international market that we wouldn’t get otherwise. It offers new opportunities for further business not just locally, but nationally and worldwide.”

Propelling business was the same reason Poseidon Barge Co., a Fort Wayne, Indiana-based barge builder and lessor with local distribution in Belle Chasse, was a vendor at the show.

“We’re here to expand our customer base,” said Mike Lane, a project manager at Poseidon Barge. “This show allows us to see customers on a regular basis as opposed to traveling and visiting them individually door to door. We’re hoping to pick up additional business and exposure in the marine industry.”

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Transportation Funding

Talk of increasing transportation funding by the president-elect had many at the show excited about the potential prospect for their bottom lines.

Lane said Poseidon Barge’s business is primarily geared to bridge-building and pile-driving contractors who work on inland rivers and lakes where large deck barges can’t access.

TOP- More than 1,000 exhibitors took part in this year’s show. Shown here is a propeller by Veth Propulsion. BOTTOM- Philip Aldridge, an investor with Sea Machines Robotics that lives in Slidell, tries out the company’s remote command system.

“Right now a lot of contractors that own their own sectional barges, all of their equipment is sitting, so that’s less opportunity for us to rent equipment. Sometimes contractors who aren’t working will lend to others who are. If we can get more projects going, then equipment will get used and be out on projects. That gives us the opportunity to replace old equipment or they’ll need to rent from us more.”

Automation Trending

Following the year that saw self-driving cars and even a beer delivery truck, it should come as no surprise that talk of automated boats and other vessels was a hot topic at the show. Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics was on hand to display its autonomous control and remote command systems, which founder Michael Johnson said enables unmanned piloting of vessels to improve productivity and efficiency, as well as safe operations in hazardous environments. The company hopes to have a commercial product available in the first half of 2017.

Johnson was involved in the salvage operation of the Costa Concordia, the cruise liner that ran aground and capsized off the coast of Italy in January 2012. Crews worked around the clock to keep oils booms around the wreckage to protect the surrounding environment, but because of traffic to the work site, the booms often failed to work effectively. Johnson’s team envisioned an autonomous active boom management system that could safely and easily interact with all the other marine traffic around it, allowing the environment to stay protected while providing the means for other manned boats to efficiently transit in and out of the protected area.

Sea Machines is currently developing three systems that allow varying levels of autonomy, said Alex Lorman, the company’s chief technology officer. Sea Machines’ remote command system allows wireless control of a vessel within 1,000 meters of the pilot, usually a manned vessel. The autonomous navigation system uses vessel-based sensors to give the craft a degree of self-awareness, enabling it to self-motor from point to point while avoiding active and passive obstacles or collaborate in tandem with another vessel. The autonomous control system upgrades traditional manually piloted vessels to be operated with a reduced or zero on-board crew. Programmable safety triggers such as hold station, engine stop or return to safe-zone protect the vessels in case of loss of communications, prohibited zone entry, unyielding traffic or system failures.

Johnson said automated workboats could soon be deployed for work in Louisiana in environmental cleanup, surveying and firefighting applications.

“During the Deepwater Horizon spill, local fishermen and their boats were used in the cleanup. This put operators, whose expertise was not spill cleanup, in direct exposure to crude oil and dispersants,” Johnson said. “Within the first month, several of these fishermen presented with symptoms such as headaches, upper-respiratory irritation and nausea, with some cases so severe as to require hospitalization.”

LEFT-  A gorgeous diving helmet was on display courtesy of Standard Calibrations Inc. out of Chesapeake, Virginia. RIGHT- A marine engine by Cummins Inc. out of Charleston, South Carolina.

Another concern was the physical and economical effects that summer heat would have on the cleanup. Recovery personnel had to use personal protection equipment including full coveralls, boots, gloves and respirators in high heat and humidity. To combat heat-related injuries, workers were commonly set on a rotation of 20 minutes of work followed by 40 minutes of rest to keep responders safe. But it effectively tripled man hours, driving up costs. Unmanned workboats can venture into spill areas too dangerous for human operators and would help to reduce health and safety hazards by allowing operators to be located away from danger.

“A faster cleanup creates less working risk for the operators and reduces overall cost while returning the maritime environment to its prior state as fast as possible,” Johnson said.

Heat-shielded unmanned workboats are also being developed for marine firefighting. Depending on the type and severity of fire being fought, an unmanned boat can get closer to danger in certain situations and may be better for fighting hazmat or overhead fires that would be hazardous to humans. With the addition of on-board infrared thermal cameras, the automated fireboat can transmit real-time imagery of the heat situation to the operator and the automated controls can keep the water stream continuously aimed at the highest-heat areas without the assistance of the operators, Johnson said.

“Unmanned vehicles can proceed in weather and sea conditions that would generally be unpleasant to crew on board small launches. Additionally, an unmanned vessel can operate continuously for extended periods of time and overnight by not requiring crew breaks or changes,” he said.

Looking Forward

With a stagnant economy, especially in the local oil and gas sector, several vendors said that before the show they were worried about attendance figures, but the concern was largely unfounded. On opening day only 100 fewer people showed up compared to last year, and only a handful of vendors didn’t come back, Wild said.

Bollinger said he has been to several trade shows across the country in the last year and this was the best attended that he’s seen.

“Being in a down market, we were questioning what kind of turnout the show would have,” Bollinger said. “But I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s been a good turnout, and we’ve had a great flow of customers.”

Estimating how much the show will mean to their businesses was difficult for most vendors to say, however all are expecting a boost.

“To quantify how much business we’re going to get at this show is difficult to tell,” Bollinger said. “We’ll see in a few months. I’m excited about the new year and what’s to come.”

Who attends the IWBS?

The International WorkBoat Show is where all things commercial marine converge.

It is attended by:

• shipyards and commercial boat builders;

• marine architects and engineers;

• equipment manufacturers and distributors;

• port authorities and engineers;

• oil exploration and production executives;

• military buyers and government officials; and

• marine surveyors.

Source: International WorkBoat Show

Did you know?

• There are nearly 55,000 maritime jobs in Louisiana that contribute more than $11.3 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to a Pricewaterhouse-Coopers study commissioned last year by the Transportation Institute.

• Louisiana ranked No. 1 in the United States in maritime jobs per capita, with an estimated 1 in 5 Louisiana jobs connected to the maritime industry, resulting in employment income of more than $3.5 billion every year.

• Companies will need as many as 3,000 additional employees for maritime operations in Louisiana in the next five years, according to maritime employers surveyed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and Louisiana Community Technical College System.

Source International WorkBoat Show

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