Automatic recognition

From humble beginnings as a two-man operation in 1990, founded by two experienced naval architects, and through its purchase by CIG Group in 1997, Ship’s Equipment Centre (SEC) Bremen has long led the market in container-fastening innovation. In 1999 a joint venture production was established in China and in 2007 the company opened its newly built manufacturing facility in Shanghai, followed soon after by a dedicated design and sales division and thereby cementing the company’s position in the regional market. Looking to further its presence in the rapidly growing Far East economies, independent branch office SEC Korea will be opened toward the end of 2011.

Perhaps SEC’s greatest innovation, however, has been the fully automatic twistlock (FAT), a device for securing containers on ships without the need for human involvement. First launched in 2003, it was the first of its type in the world and has gone on to become widespread through the container shipping industry. Managing director Wolfgang Thiele discusses the benefits and advantages of SEC’s FAT systems in greater detail: “So-called semi-automatic systems are common practice on container vessels. However these locks need to be opened manually before discharging the container. Each deck container has four locks, all of which need to be opened, and on big vessels the boxes are stacked seven or even eight high. That means stevedores need to operate a small handle of approximately 25 millimetres diameter at 15 to 17 metres above working platform level.

“SEC felt the need to invent a solution and created the FAT in 2003. It was at first difficult to change the mind of all those who were used to the semi-automatic system but nowadays people realise immediately the huge advantage of FAT: there is no need for manual work related to the FAT on board at all. Time saving in ports is becoming an essential issue, particularly for larger vessels. In our experience, no one doubts the advantages of FAT any more. It is a robust and simple one-piece execution without fancy mechanical parts, rotating cones or other items that could make the product complicated and unsafe. It is the simplicity that makes our FAT safe and unique.

“Very recently, during the summer of 2011, GL and LRoS decided to strengthen the rules for certifying of such FAT. This change in requirements was motivated by the fact that the product’s special functioning meant standard test procedures are not suitable to test the safety requirements. SEC appreciates the tougher rules because our FATs are able to fulfil the specifications fully. Today, almost two million SEC FAT units are in service and another 1.5 million are on order. In particular, the latest giant container vessels make it almost impossible for owners to avoid switching to the timesaving application of FAT.”

A substantial part of SEC’s success has been built on the back of its FAT system, with the figures mentioned by Wolfgang reflecting a 25 per cent increase in sales over the past year. Wolfgang credits this to two key reasons, the first being the standalone strength of the FAT system but second also the growth of the container market itself. With most shipping sectors experiencing a two to four per cent growth since 2008, the eight to ten per cent growth in worldwide container business – and in particular the growing number of panamax and post-panamax vessels – has gained SEC’s FAT far greater demand.

SEC’s product portfolio is more than just a FAT system however, with its range offering a wider selection of fittings, fixings, lashings, adapters, racks, platforms, cones, automation systems and accessories than any other company on the market. This has attracted customers from the top end of the market including international liner owners and mega-carriers down to the smaller short-sea shipping operators with 600 TEU capacity. They enjoy products that are manufactured entirely in-house, which has been one of SEC’s biggest advantages over competitors that rely on outsourced expertise to produce components and units.

“This independency from subcontractors allows us to produce precisely the designs that our clients require,” Wolfgang says. “Our factory is staffed by approximately 200 employees and every SEC product is designed and produced to match with the securing system determined for each vessel individually. We do not convince our customers to accept compromises based on lack of availability of certain products; often we will tailor-make a solution based on the exact desires of the customer. Due to the fact we consider aftersales and spare part services a vital part of our business, we also make sure that bespoke designs remain available so long as the vessel requires spares. We are able, therefore, to provide every component that has been delivered over the last 20 years as an original spare part at very short notice.”

He goes on to highlight how this commitment to its products and customers has secured SEC a future filled with opportunity: “Now, drawing to the end of 2011, all of us are looking forward toward the large newbuilds about to enter the market. There will be a drawback with the likelihood of existing vessels being laid up, however, the long-term perspective remains very positive. We are quite sure that our products will be onboard those vessels being built in 2015 and 2016. If one considers such vessels to have an average lifetime of 15 to 20 years, we need to be prepared to provide spares until 2030 or 2035 for these ships. That is a good forecast.”

Of course SEC is not a company to rest on its laurels and it has no plans to simply be a spares manufacturer. Already there are big plans underway including a brand new lashing system being developed in conjunction with a liner carrier and global terminal operator that will have a heavy focus on safety as well as the aforementioned SEC Korea branch office that promises to expand the company’s business even further afield. Wolfgang finishes with plenty of confidence: “Our business formula is robust and flexible at the same time. We expect a constant organic growth during the coming years.”

New office opening in South Korea
Innovative and cutting edge products
Complete in-house design and manufacturing