Long-term survival

Survitec is an internationally renowned designer and manufacturer of survival equipment. It was formed in 2000, bringing together historic liferaft manufacturer RFD Ltd with the air-sea equipment developer Beaufort and other businesses. These ranged from German boats specialist Deutsche Schlauchboot and Air Beam Shelter manufacturer Eurovinil, to marine and aviation servicing businesses in Singapore and Australia. During the last 12 years Survitec’s remit has expanded massively, with the company evolving into a collection of producers and brands that include DSB, EV, Elliott, Imperial RFD Toyo, and the original RFD Beaufort name. In 2011, two further major names were added to the Survitec family: the marine division of Cosalt PLC, and the liferaft and marine evacuation system of famous French manufacturer Zodiac. Today, Survitec’s products are supplied not only to the commercial and leisure marine sector but to the aviation, energy and defence industries as well.

Since Survitec was last featured in Shipping & Marine (2011, issue 10), the Cosalt and Zodiac businesses have had time to lay their roots within the Survitec family. Head of marketing and communications Rachel Rotrou discusses it further: “Both acquisitions happened at the same time and we went from 1100 to 2000 employees within the space of about a week. The last year has been spent integrating them into our business and really seeing the results of the operational synergies: Cosalt providing us with an additional 21 service stations in the UK and Continental Europe – bringing our global total to 37; Zodiac filling the cruise and passenger ferry gaps in our liferafts and marine evacuation systems. We walk and talk very differently now.”

Some of the more innovative product and service offerings that have emerged from these acquisitions include the new ‘remote liferaft launch’ feature to the already notable SurvitecZodiac Medium Inflatable Slide (MIS) Escape Slide System. Announced in July 2012, this feature adds a second liferaft to the MIS that can be quickly and remotely deployed by a painter line without requiring a crewman to descend into the first vessel. This reduces the required time for getting people to safety whilst also improving the personal safety of crewmembers. Survitec has also increased the passenger capacity of its flagship MES system Marin Ark, enabling the safe and efficient evacuation of up to 860 passengers in under 30 minutes.

On the services side of the business, targeting shipyards, owners and managers, Survitec has established a new global Liferaft hire programme. This team provides dedicated customer support for the hire programme, aimed at unburdening the operational and logistsics aspects of safety equipment management and maintenance. The decision to establish a dedicated hire support team reflects a growing trend Survitec has experienced in its business during the last few years: that customers are increasingly attracted to the cost efficiency and reduced administration, provided by hiring rather than buying equipment.

“If you look at our liferaft business in particular there is a definite move toward hire contracts,” confirms Rachel. “Previously clients would buy liferafts, take them to one of our service stations once a year and have them serviced but today many prefer to outsource the hassle of equipment servicing with its unpredicatable charges and paperwork. Hire contracts mean a ship can arrive in port, have the old raft removed and a new one installed, then be ready for sailing. Meanwhile we will take the old raft away, service it, then put it on a different ship. Effectively this is a managed pool of readily available Liferafts at key port locations worldwide. This is a customer-driven change in the market that has come from across the UK and continental Europe, from major shipping lines right down to small fishing fleets, and we have adapted our entire portfolio to it.”

What has made Survitec stand out from many of its contemporaries is the extent to which it has gone to understand its customers, the embracing of hire contracts being just one example. As the company’s products are used increasingly on a global scale, the importance of this understanding has grown with the varying challenges of different markets. “In Brazil, for example, it can be more expensive to import spares and parts so it is essential that we keep track of where our customer is going to be, how long they will be in a location, their next destination, etc, so that they can receive the best value service possible. We will work with the customer to ensure their key ports are covered and aim to offer a flexible contract that works with the lines they operate,” Rachel illustrates.

Survitec’s ambition is to be more than just a leading supplier of rescue and evacuation systems: it wants to be seen as an expert in the design and application of these products, and the complete through life management, including training. Its focus therefore is equally footed in both service improvement and product research and development. Confident in its abilities, the company is unafraid of competition from rising markets in Asia. Safety equipment quality is one area that owners and operators should not compromise; Survitec’s extensive history and good reputation in the sector almost guarantees its stability for the future.

As various sectors of the maritime world continue shifting and changing, Survitec is observing the market in order to see where it can continue offer its quality products and services. Its traditional markets are the UK, Europe, and the US, where it has worked with some of the world’s leading organisations: the UK Ministry of Defence, the US Navy, national coast guards, disaster relief crews, and many others. The experience gained in these regions will prove essential to establishing its name in markets unexplored by the company such as the growing oil and gas industries in Brazil, West Africa, and Australia, or the offshore renewables market in Northern Europe.

“Reputation is critical,” states Rachel. “In this industry you are in many cases, supplying products of ‘last resort’ so getting it right first time is essential. As an example, we support around 30,000 crew and passengers going offshore every day. We make sure each survival suit is sized, bagged and ready, enabling the helicopter to take off on time. Failing this would cause a delay and financial penalties. When timing is critical, it is our job to make sure the customer’s job is as efficient as possible. We take away the worry of compliance by providing the right products at the right time allowing the customer to get on with their own business. Our ambition to be an expert is driven by this understanding. Alongside our wide service station network and lean manufacturing processes, we have a lot of great people that will ensure the quality of our products is second to none. As Survitec’s business expands this will remain as important as ever. We want our customers to view us as the go to expert for their safety needs.”

Survitec Group
New evacuation system
Consolidating acquisitions
World class product quality
Launch of Global Services division