North Sea Winches is a family-owned and run company founded in 1971 and today is still situated in its Scarborough, UK, office and workshop within which its life began. Winches of all types have been the company’s core product for the last 40 years. The North Sea and North Atlantic UK fishing industry was, traditionally, the primary customer but during the last few years the company has taken its expertise into new sectors further afield. In addition to designing and manufacturing its own winches for most marine applications, the team is also accomplished at hydraulic systems design.
Sales manager Ray Milner discusses how the versatility that has resulted from the company’s lengthy experience has been essential to North Sea Winches: “A customer will approach us with certain requirements and we will sit down around the table with them to work out exactly what they need. This gives us an edge over others that have specific products they try to steer the customer toward. We did this, for example, on our biggest winches built to date: a pair of 185 tonne hydraulic units for wellhead operations in the Gulf of Mexico. We also recently supplied a French company with some 25 tonne constant tension mooring winches with self-contained power-packs.”
Other recent projects illustrate the range of work North Sea Winches undertakes every year. Around the UK it is today providing a lot of winches for harbour tugs and multicats, whilst it has been undertaking a lot of work with French companies that are involved with cable laying off the coast of West Africa. Another recent project saw it build winches for a 250-tonne floating barge for a Ravestein, a pontoon and ship-building company in the Netherlands. Upcoming projects include a new range of deck winches for proposed multi-purpose vessels as well as pursuing the renewable energy sector with sophisticated winches specially designed for deployment and recovery of tidal generators below the ocean’s surface.
Ray has highlighted how the company tailors every winch to the exact specifications required by the customer, but this bespoke approach is built on a foundation of certain standards: of quality, of durability and of operability. The company is just about to gain official ISO 9001 certification but has worked according to its guidelines for many years now. Having come from a background of manufacturing products that are used by fishermen in some of the world’s harshest regions, quality has always been at the forefront of the business “If they work well enough for fishermen,” he points out, “they will definitely work for other users.”
However, the gaining of ISO 9001 opens up several new avenues for the company, not least of which will be Ministry of Defence (MoD) contracts that demand ISO 9001 as a minimum. This brand new area will bring its own additional benefits, putting North Sea Winches in contact with suppliers and purchasers it might not otherwise have the opportunity to connect with. Given the difficulties that remain in the world’s economies, such an explosion of new opportunities will be hugely beneficial and, as it has already proven, the company’s ability to meet the demands placed on it will put it in a good position for the future.
“Our versatility is what has kept us going,” says Ray. “That we can turn our hand to almost any winch application means we can survive events such as the financial crisis. When it first arrived we were artificially buoyed by the high cost of oil, but as orders for very large crude carriers (VLCCs) and other cargo vessels were gradually scaled down the effects slowly filtered down the supply chain and we certainly saw a dip last year.
“However, we are a small company. If there are big projects we subcontract quite a lot of work out. We can certainly design and build large winches but we also have partners that can help us undertake some of the biggest work for us. For instance, we had an order for eight 30 tonne winches for a six-month turnaround. There was no way we could have done that alone so we asked engineering companies in Sheffield to help with some of the fabrication. Yet, by the same token, when things quieten down again as they did during 2010, our size means we can then do all the work-in-house and keep ourselves busy that way. This versatility has meant we have come out of the dip well equipped.”
Planning for the future, the company has recently completed a 300 square metre extension of its factory that will significantly improve its capabilities. The new facility is equipped with larger, heavier cranes than the existing section allowing the company to handle bigger winches than ever before. This will become particularly important for MoD and tidal generator contracts, where large and complex winches are a requirement.
“We want to progress further into this renewables side,” says Ray looking toward the future, “where our forte will be in tidal generators. We’ve already approached several different companies and are in talks with them; once the generator prototypes are approved, building will commence and we hope to be aiding them. Apart ukfrom that, we would like to have more clout in the harbour tug market such as in Southampton where the fleet is constantly being upgraded. There is potential everywhere and we are looking to make the most of it.”