Raising the stakes

Coloured grid covers help clearly define these critical connection points on SeaQurePen to aid staff onsite during operations, and sometimes during poor weather days. Far left: Gael Force was principal project partner for turnkey supply and installation at The Scottish Salmon Company’s site at East Tarbert Bay, which included 12 Triton450 pens.

Supply partner Gael Force Group reveals how its sector-leading quality assurance programme and specialised SeaQureWeld process is taking fish pen manufacturing to the next level.

The forces of nature in exposed farming locations demand a robustly manufactured fish pen system that will take everything the harsh marine environment will throw at it. Fish farmers in exposed locations expect heavy-duty pens on their site to be strong and long-lasting.

To exceed those expectations, Gael Force Group has raised the stakes by investing in a sector-leading quality assurance programme in the production of its HDPE fish farm pens while also implementing a series of design improvements.

Well-known brand names in Gael Force’s resilient range of pens include SeaQurePen, Triton, Oceanflex, and Aquaflex. Circumferences range from 40 metres up to 200 metres. Developed over 30 years, these pen systems have been successfully installed in some of the harshest offshore marine environments all over the world.

Over the past three years, customer demand for Gael Force’s pen systems has increased markedly. The Group’s pen manufacturing business, Gael Force Fusion, has more than doubled its highly skilled workforce. Production and refurbishment works have expanded beyond the main base near Oban, with additional manufacturing also taking place at Kishorn alongside longstanding remote build sites in Orkney and Shetland.

But while customer demand has been developing, so too has Gael Force’s desire to deliver world-class levels of quality assurance.

“We have completely raised our game by investing heavily in several areas to reinforce our quality assurance process for the design and build of pens. The prime goal for us is to offer a best-in-class standard of manufacturing excellence and quality assurance that fish farmers should expect; the gold standard in the sector,” Group Production Director Stephen Offord explains.

Underpinning this unique quality assurance programme is an ISO 9001:2015 accredited quality management system and a purpose-built QHSE software platform. The Group’s supply partner has also been recommended for NS9415 certification by leading Norwegian certification body, Aquastructures. These are critical foundations for formalising strict pen build procedures, monitoring plant and machinery, and supporting the continuous skills and training development. Strong, clear team communication is also critical and the adopted QHSE software enhances this, through use of automated email alerts.

SeaQureWeld

At the heart of the programme is SeaQureWeld – a stringent process for assuring the highest standards of quality in the butt fusion welding of HDPE pipe joints during pen assembly. Tight Incoming Quality Assurance (IQA) checks are carried out with records retained on all critical components and materials entering the production area to ensure they meet high-quality standards.

Gael Force has invested in highly specialised weld inspection equipment, which is used to perform quality tests on every weld bead produced from butt-fused pipe joints. The process is used over and above the requirements set out in the polyethylene standard WIS 4-32-08 which only requires the removal and hand testing of weld beads. The weld inspection equipment allows further in-depth testing and analysis of the external weld bead created during butt fusion and identifies defects at a higher level within the joint with pinpoint precision and accuracy. It logs all the detail related to each individual weld which is filed per project on the accompanying specialist database on the cloud, ensuring maximum traceability.

In the unlikely event of a defect, the weld inspection equipment, which is controlled with a tablet and smartphone app, immediately detects this, and automatically triggers an email alert which is sent instantly to the supervisor and production manager. The section of pipe containing the defect weld is cut away and removed, and data is recorded in the app and sent for independent weld analysis. The weld is then completely re-done, and the testing process begins again until a pass result is returned on the next bead.

An unsatisfactory weld will not be permitted to leave the manufacturing area and, most crucially, will never make it into the pen assembly stage.

Continuous improvement in design

The fully integrated SeaQurePen 500 and SeaQureLift winch system have been reinforced through design improvements identified from user feedback on the harshest sites.

SeaQurePen is extremely tough and a force to be reckoned with. It is designed to reduce pen furniture and related maintenance, increasing reliability which in turn will lower farming costs. One recent design improvement is creating even more stability for the deck and overall pen structure, with the design of heavy-duty saddle welded stops to prevent movement of the base units on the 500mm floatation rings.

The SeaQureLift winch, designed for many years of reliable service, has undergone design improvements too, with additional protection to the winch motor which is rated to IP69K, the highest level international standard covering protection against environmental factors. Motor terminals are potted with a compound to prevent water ingress and moisture. On-pen installation of electrics has been hugely simplified with the removal of junction boxes on winch installations which means an improvement in reliability and reduction of clutter on the wide walkways. This significant design change also means an electrician is no longer required to carry out an on-pen installation. A frame reinforcement solution has also been designed to improve winch stability on the pen’s deck under the heaviest of loads.

Reputation built on trust

With its robust quality assurance programme and latest design improvements, Gael Force is setting a new benchmark for the aquaculture sector.

Stephen Offord says, “SeaQureWeld is on a different level from anything we have seen in the market. It is going to offer customers added confidence in our pen building procedures. Our team, to their credit, have worked extremely hard to embed our robust quality assurance process into their daily routines and we are seeing that pay off for our customers”.