Additional bobbins to reel in sophisticated rope applications

Meg Chesshyre

February 1, 2013

Bridon’s new wire rope factory at Neptune Quay.

Shipments have begun from a new UK wire rope factory built by Bridon International with future deepwater installation and lifting requirements and challenges very much in mind. Meg Chesshyre joined industry leaders taking an early look around the Bridon Neptune Quay facility in Newcastle.

UK rope manufacturer Bridon has a new state-of-the-art factory on the River Tyne, on the site of the old Swan Hunter shipyard. Bridon claims it is capable of producing the largest and most complex wire ropes in the world. Officially opened by UK minister for business & enterprise Michael Fallon, the new facility represents an investment of £30 million (US$48.6 million), a third of which went toward an innovative, 24-bobbin rope-closing machine.

Speaking at the launch of the new facility last November, Bridon Group CEO Jon Templeman announced that "Bridon Neptune Quay is open for business, making the largest and most complex ropes the offshore industry ever seen. We have worked closely with customers to understand the challenges they face in reaching greater depths in some of the toughest conditions on earth. Thanks to this collaborative approach, ropes constructed at Bridon Neptune Quay will not only be the most advanced in the world, but will also be uniquely tailored to tackle 21st century offshore challenges.” The main focus of product development at Neptune Quay will be to provide solutions for lifting, lowering and mooring that meet and exceed the stiffer challenges the oil & gas industry faces when accessing deepwater reserves. Templeman expects the ropes produced at the new plant to “expand the boundaries of the possible” across UK rope manufacturer Bridon has a new state-of-the-art factory on the River Tyne, on the site of the old Swan Hunter shipyard. Bridon claims it is capable of producing the largest and most complex wire ropes in the world. Officially opened by UK minister for business & enterprise Michael Fallon, the new facility represents an investment of £30 million ($48.6 million), a third of which went toward an innovative, 24-bobbin rope-closing machine.

Speaking at the launch of the new facility last November, Bridon Group CEO Jon Templeman announced that “Bridon Neptune Quay is open for business, making the largest and most complex ropes the offshore industry has ever seen. We have worked closely with customers to understand the challenges they face in reaching greater depths in some of the toughest conditions on earth. Thanks to this collaborative approach, ropes constructed at Bridon Neptune Quay will not only be the most advanced in the world, but will also be uniquely tailored to tackle 21st century offshore challenges.”

The main focus of product development at Neptune Quay will be to provide solutions for lifting, lowering and mooring that meet and exceed the stiffer challenges the oil & gas industry faces when accessing deepwater reserves. Templeman expects the ropes produced at the new plant to “expand the boundaries of the possible” across the sector. Keeping pace with the ambitions of the oil & gas industry has been a principal motivation for the construction of the new facility as deepwater deployment moves from 300te (330 ton) in 3000m (9843ft) water depth to up to 600te at depths down to 4000m. The company is already in talks with Petrobras, which is eyeing subsalt development below 4000m. Bridon has opened up a logistical hub in Macae, Brazil, providing warehousing, distribution, and project supervision. West Africa is another developing deepwater market.

The Bridon Neptune Quay facility has the capacity to produce highly engineered ropes in package weights of 650te, with enhanced breaking loads, optimized bend fatigue performance, effective lubrication, and minimal rotation under load. It will boost Bridon’s rope manufacturing capacity by at least 9000te a year.

Designed and manufactured by German engineering company Sket, the new 24-bobbin rope closer machine with up to 600te rope weight capacity is claimed to be the largest rope-making machine in the world. It can manufacture ropes up to 250mm (9.8in) in diameter. In the past, the largest closer machines have typically had only eight bobbins.

Wire rope on the take-up stand.

Sket also produced the new stranding machine, which winds the individual wires into strands before they are spun together by the closer machine.

Newcastle-based engineering firm Pipe Coil Technology was commissioned to deliver an innovative take-up stand. The stand takes up new ropes from the closer onto the final reels, and can either be used to move the reels along a track to the quayside or to load them onto trucks. The reels can then be taken by truck to the nearby Walker Quay, and loaded onto vessels using the quay’s imposing, historic and newly refurbished 1930 Hammerhead crane. The load capacity of the crane has been increased to 325te with Newcastle City Council backing the refurbishment.

The factory’s Tyneside location, along with its state-of-the-art take-up stand for lifting reels directly from dock to vessel, will help Bridon significantly improve logistics. The water depth at the quay is 8.5m.

Bridon’s £30 million investment has been supported by £2.2 million from the UK’s Regional Growth Fund, which estimates that the new factory will leverage additional supply chain investment into the northeast England economy.

Bridon was originally formed in 1924, through an amalgamation of wire rope producers, one of which dates back to the late 18th century. In 2008, Bridon was acquired by Melrose, a specialist manufacturing investor listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Bridon’s offshore product portfolio is engineered to service operators and contractors in a wide range of applications including exploration, drilling and completion, deepwater lifting and deployment, station keeping for mobile offshore drilling units, permanent production and export mooring systems.

The company has 30 years of expertise in developing ropes and related systems for permanent moorings, starting with the Schielhallion system for BP back in 1983. The 81st system was due for completion last month. Fabrication of the 82nd system starts in May for a project in 2000m of water off West Africa.

The 24-bobbin rope closer machine.

“We are a niche supplier,” says Newton. The new facility offers the opportunity to build longer and more complex ropes up to 600te in weight compared with the company’s previous limit of 360te. The 24-bobbin closing machine enables the production of ropes with very low rotation characteristics, essential when carrying out accurate placement of heavy objects on the seabed.

“Our market is ropes for demanding and sophisticated applications – about 40% of the total rope market. This is as opposed to the remainder of the market, based in China, which manufactures straightforward industrial ropes,” says Templeman. In deepwater heavy lifting there are Korean and Italian competitors, but Bridon expects to retain a market edge with its new closing machine in Newcastle.

The main customers for lifting ropes are heavy lift and underwater contractors such as Heerema, Subsea 7 and Technip. The anchor line market is much broader. “We would only produce anchor lines where some sort of specialist input, or higher level of performance was required,” explains Templeman.

Capacity increase

A 20% increase in the capacity of the closer enables the manufacture of six- and eight-strand offshore wire rope in lengths up to 7000m. Neptune Quay’s manufacturing capacity is being enhanced further by the relocation of a spiral stranding machine from the company’s Doncaster factory and the installation of a polymer exclusion and sheathing line. These should be operational by May.

In addition to the significant investment in Neptune Quay, Bridon has also increased wire drawing capacity at Doncaster with a new £1.75 million wire drawing machine, and is currently investing £4.6 million in the Bridon Technology Centre in Doncaster, to develop the next generation of rope solutions. The center will be inaugurated this month and operating at full capacity by March.

UK minister for business & enterprise Michael Fallon and Bridon CEO Jon Templeman at the official opening.

Current avenues of research include advanced lubricants, and hybrid ropes combining synthetic materials and steel. The integration of complex polymers and advanced materials into wire ropes will reduce compression stress. Bridon has applied for a patent for a novel extrusion process, which incorporates strakes in the sheathing to minimize vortex induced vibration in deepwater mooring systems. The new center will also be used for rope analysis, with customers encouraged to provide feedback on rope performance and input on future requirements.

Bridon has 11 manufacturing units worldwide with four factories in the UK: a wire operation in Doncaster, fiber rope manufacturing at Coatbridge, and steel rope factories at Neptune and Willington Quays, Newcastle. It has rope factories at Gelsenkirchen, Germany; Hangzhou, China; Jakarta, Indonesia, and Auckland, New Zealand. In North America it has a rope factory in Exeter, Pennsylvania, a wire operation in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and a fabrication service center in Oakland City, Indiana.