Engineering solutions through innovation

By Rajitha Sivakumaran

Maritime Hydraulic

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When global engineering firms providing services for large energy companies face an obstacle, such as an issue with equipment, they reach out to the market to procure a solution. When an issue in hydraulics arises, the Moncton-based Maritime Hydraulic is a go-to stop for reliable, custom-built engineering solutions.

Maritime Hydraulic began in New Brunswick over 40 years ago as a humble repair shop. A few years later, the company was joined by the current president, Kim Carruthers, who then served as the general manager. Carruthers brought with him a novel set of ideas for the direction of the company and shifted the focus from repair to manufacturing.

“The kind of industrial equipment we manufacture is unique — by unique I mean it’s something that’s not available in any inventory … it is equipment that must be designed, engineered, modeled, prototyped and finally manufactured,” said Iván Barroeta, the company’s Director of Business Development.

A little over a decade ago, the company made another growth shift. Realizing that the Canadian market entailed the same select group of companies competing for projects, Carruthers introduced Maritime Hydraulic to the global market and export of manufactured goods was integrated into the business model. This aligned well with Barroeta’s expertise in international business development.

With offices now in Moncton, Houston and Malaysia, the company employs about 100 people and has worked with recognized industry giants from Chevron to NASA.

From oil to gas and more

Initially, Maritime Hydraulic worked predominantly in the oil and gas sector, manufacturing tensioning systems for deep and ultra-deep waters. A few years ago, the company further expanded its specializations, realizing that working exclusively with the oil and gas sector would not remain profitable indefinitely. An aggressive plan to expand to infrastructure, mining and marine soon ensued. The transition consequently meant developing expertise in these new specializations through rigorous research.

“In our business, which is heavily influenced by engineering, it’s not just about owning machinery. It’s also about the knowledge and skills used to design equipment,” Barroeta said.

In 2014, the company received recognition at the Offshore Technology Conference when it presented research on a new kind of tensioning system.

“We invest seriously in research. That’s the only way we can come up with innovative solutions,” Barroeta said.

The rewards of extensive research are most notably seen in the impressive list of clientele the company has worked with over the years. In the oil and gas sector, this includes Shell, Chevron, ATP and Conoco. Most notable is the riser tensioning system Maritime Hydraulic manufactured for Shell’s TLP Olympus oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The riser is a movable apparatus used in oil rigs, highly influenced by wind, current and extreme weather conditions. The tensioning system manufactured by Maritime Hydraulic is a mandatory safety equipment that keeps the riser stable.

In the infrastructure sector, Maritime Hydraulic manufactured 13-metre–long dam gates cylinders for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers while working on the Olmsted Locks and Dam project on the Ohio River — the largest inland water navigation project in the history of the U.S.

For the eminent mining company Freeport-McMoRan Inc., the company built a 500-tonne crusher cylinder to support the high pressure grinding roll equipment (HPGR; used to grind rocks) designed by the engineering firm, Metso Minerals. At the time in 2014, this HPGR system was the largest in the world.

Maritime Hydraulic has even worked on special projects that fall outside its usual industry affiliations. One example is its involvement with the Antares rocket on behalf of Orbital Science and NASA. Though most would remember the Antares rocket for the catastrophic explosion that accompanied its fifth launch, the engineers at Maritime Hydraulic remember their role in the early stages of the project where they designed and built cylinders to raise and position the rocket.

Manufactured exclusively in Canada, specialized equipment can take up to four years to produce, although the average time lies between one to two years. Nonetheless, it is a time-consuming task, said Barroeta.

Engineering success and mastering challenges

Barroeta attributes the success of Maritime Hydraulic to decisions made over a decade ago, when a focus on niche markets was undertaken. This early investment and specialization allowed for the development and accumulation of expert knowledge over the years.

“We are a highly specialized company,” Barroeta said.

Authenticity and modesty are another secret behind Maritime Hydraulic’s perpetual presence in the market. The traits are self-evident in the company’s marketing material, which is often devoid of self-praise and embellishing adjectives. The desire to learn, the addiction to extensively researching every aspect of the job — these are foundational in creating a successful company as well, according to Barroeta.

“We know about mechanical engineering, we know about hydraulics, but our past projects are not enough. We are still learning and we are still growing and that keeps us motivated,” Barroeta said.

Upon entering the export market, Maritime Hydraulic enjoyed great success in North America and experienced enough growth to propel it towards the European market — a natural next step as Europe is a leader in engineering solutions. But success is rarely reached without stumbling across a few challenges. In terms of the worldwide market, Maritime Hydraulic is a small company and consequently, the current difficulties lie with competing against large, well-established companies from Germany, the UK, France and the Netherlands, among others.

But the company is not without tricks up its sleeve when swimming in deep waters amongst the big fish. Overcoming this challenge involves a two-fold solution — it comes down to something as basic as listening to the client and exceeding expectations. The large amount of research and experimentation pays off when the company is able to guarantee a longer-than-expected product lifecycle with zero maintenance — a highpoint that has already been used successfully with its North American clients. In 2000, Maritime Hydraulic built Moonpool Door Cylinders for North American Shipbuilding. Sixteen years later, the cylinders continue to function impeccably, requiring no upkeep or repair.

Balancing domestic and global markets

Over the past 25 years, the company has carried out less than 40 projects in Canada and consequently, developing the domestic market has now become a focus for Maritime Hydraulic. Presently, Barroeta is involved in a campaign, the goal of which is to form partnerships with Canadian engineering firms.

“For me it’s a point of honour to develop the domestic market,” Barroeta said.

The future direction of the company lies in investing in research and new equipment and increasing partnerships and sales on a global scale to Europe, Africa and Asia while continuing to focus on its four areas of specialization.

“The future of the company is expanding our presence in markets where we never before sold directly and we do believe that is the right direction, investing in direct marketing and also developing local contacts,” Barroeta said.