Flotation Technologies Inc. has moved to a new facility in Biddeford, Maine, and tripled its capacity primarily in response to unprecedented demand in the offshore oil industry.
The firm also added equipment and is planning to increase its work force significantly.
The manufacturer of deep-water buoyancy systems - which makes a large number of its products using syntactic foam and polyurethane elastomers - recently moved to a 45,000-square-foot plant in Biddeford, about a mile away from its former, 26,000-square-foot facility, according to President Tim Cook.
Automated production equipment Flotation Technologies purchased and installed, including bulk dispensers for PU elastomers and syntactic foam, will allow the firm to boost capacity threefold, he said.
Flotation said it also has room at the plant to accommodate future growth.
In addition, the company plans to increase its work force of 54 to about 80 by the end of 2007. ``At this time last year we had about 25 employees,'' Cook said.
He did not disclose costs for the expansion project.
A major increase in orders within the firm's offshore sector in the past few years - including $12 million in new contracts from major integrated oil companies, drilling contractors and oil service operations - has had a positive impact on its offshore sector, Cook said, especially in flow line, umbilical and drilling riser buoyancy.
``We doubled our sales last year, and we expect to double our sales this year and next year,'' he claimed.
In response, Flotation decided to boost its production capacity and the size of its engineering staff, and to position itself as one of the fastest-growing and most technically capable firms in its market, Cook said.
Firm shifting focus
The expansion project began earlier this year and will continue for the rest of 2007, and possibly beyond.
But Flotation Technologies probably would not be in its present position had Cook not taken a risk and decided to change the company's strategy five years ago.
His father, David Cook, started the business in 1979, after he developed technology for the construction of deep-diving military submarines using syntactic foam for Electric Boat, now part of General Dynamics Corp., for a number of years. The industry pioneer left the company to tackle projects for other businesses before he launched Flotation Technologies.
Originally the firm concentrated on oceanographic products.
``We grew to become the largest manufacturer of subsurface buoys for the oceanographic market,'' said Tim Cook, who joined the business in 1981.
Starting in production, Tim Cook worked all facets of the business over the next several years and eventually became president. Flotation's primary focus began to change in 2002, when he determined that the oil industry was growing rapidly and showed no signs of slowing down.
``We made a concerted effort to move into the offshore oil industry, hired more engineers, upgraded our material technology, achieved ISO 9001:2000 certification and made that our core business,'' he said. ``A lot of people worked hard and long hours to make that happen.''
And that effort has paid off.
Demand in the offshore sector of its business in the past few years has increased dramatically, he said. Flotation designs and manufactures deep-water buoyancy systems using high-strength FlotecT syntactic foams and PU elastomers.
The products are a big item in the offshore drilling sector because of their quality and long life, according to Cook.
In addition to its growing offshore business, the company continues to be strong in the oceanographic, seismic and military markets, he added.
Variety is the key
Using a variety of materials and blends, Flotation offers an assortment of products for marine applications such as distributed buoyancy for flexible pipes and umbilicals; drilling riser buoyancy modules; cable floats; umbilical floats; cable and pipeline protection; polymer bend restrictors; and installation buoyancy of any size and depth rating.
Its products are custom-made to be used in the most demanding conditions on earth, Cook indicated: on the surface of oceans around the globe and four miles below the surface; under arctic polar ice; and in the heat of West Africa.
Flotation Technologies differs from its competitors because of its ability to engineer with a wide variety of materials, he said - including its three primary materials: natural rubber, syntactic foam and PU elastomers.
``Our engineers work with companies to develop optimum underwater systems with long life,'' he said. ``Most of our products have a 20-year life span. And our products perform the whole time.''
The company produced its first syntactic foam castings in 1979, and has a longer history with the material than any company now in existence, according to Cook.
Flotation does produce a wide variety of standard offerings, but it focuses heavily on coming up with custom solutions to problems, he said.
He cited ``a classic polyurethane application'' - the company's InFlex line of bend control systems, engineered to meet the specific needs of a customer or application. InFlex products are used on flexible pipes, cables and umbilicals that are prone to failure when attached to a fixed device because they tend to bend at the point of attachment.
Bend restrictors, cast from high-performance PU elastomers, are made as half shells to allow for offshore installation and prevent a flexible product from bending beyond its maximum bend radius, Cook said.
Taking top honors
Flotation Technologies has a long list of capabilities, including in-house engineering; vacuum mixing; automatic dispensing of PU elastomers and foams; thermoforming and rotational molding of plastics; computer numerically controlled milling and turning of polymers and metals; spray application of PU elastomer protective coatings; and a raw material testing laboratory.
The company recently received Manufacturing Extension Partnership's Manufacturing Excellence Award, which recognizes a company for achieving world-class manufacturing status.
Flotation said it enlisted the assistance of MEP, part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology under the U.S. Department of Commerce, in developing best business practices and methods.
As Cook looks to the future, he said Flotation ``wants to be the dominant player in the offshore deep-water buoyancy industry.''
``And I think we can do it,'' he said. ``I think we have excellent technology, great people and the drive to be the best at whatever challenges we take on.''