The largest ferry system in the United States, Washington State Ferries (WSF), carried more than 23.9 million passengers and 10.5 million vehicles in 2015. That’s a lot of weight to bear year after year, especially with many ferries running 16 to 22 hours a day.
A fleet of 22 WSF vessels transports commuters, tourists and tanker trucks, serving as a marine highway across the Puget Sound. The new ferries are designed to last 60 years – with many of them traveling nearly one million miles. Building a vessel capable of lasting this long under these conditions probably seems like a daunting task, but not for the team at Vigor. With ten facilities and more than 2,500 employees, Vigor is the largest shipbuilding, ship repair and complex fabricator in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
Vigor’s 27-acre Seattle facility is located at the hub of the maritime industry in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to building and maintaining WSF ferries, the yard takes on new construction and repair for mid-sized to large vessels. Vigor routinely services fishing vessels, ferries, barges, military ships and offshore oil and gas vessels.
Kevin Hein, Director of Engineering at Vigor’s Seattle shipyard, and his team are responsible for completing the engineering at all phases of new construction.
“My crew works on production drawings, assisting in troubleshooting of components. Just this morning we were procuring a switchboard,” Hein said. “We have every conversation under the sun that has a technical thread in the shipyard. The vessels we build and repair for WSF are very complex. They consist of power generation, propulsion systems, fire protection, food service, navigation systems and structure. All of these go together into this floating self-contained city.”
Designing these structures takes time and precision. All the pieces must come together perfectly and be approved prior to construction starting. Adopting new technology, like Viega press technology, is changing the way companies like Vigor do business.
“We first discovered Viega during the design phase for the current Washington State Ferry Olympic-class ferries.” Hein said. “We were looking for a mechanical-type fitting that was an alternative to hot work, and through conversations with sales reps and the customer, we jointly recognized the benefits of using press products.”
At the time, there were restrictions on where Vigor could use Viega products. Those restrictions don’t exist today.
“For us, this was the first push into this area away from traditional welded or brazed systems,” Hein said. “As our workforce ages and we have higher demands, we try to do earlier outfitting without damaging paint due to hot work. The use of “cold work” piping solutions, like Viega, are more and more important.”
Vigor has used Viega products on six Washington State Ferries and is working on their seventh. Hein began using Viega ProPress Copper on potable water and hot water heating in 2008 and today also relies on the Viega’s metric-sized copper nickel system, SeaPress, for vehicle deck sprinkler systems.
“Both are great products. They are the right choice for those systems. They meet the regulations and they are easy to install. There’s a lot of pipe in the vessel so you really see the benefit of the labor savings,” Hein said.
Vigor recently completed work on the M/V Tokitae, an Olympic-class passenger ferry launched in June 2014. It was Vigor’s first experience with Viega SeaPress, a copper nickel system built specifically to withstand the harsh elements of the sea.
“In terms of installation, those two are direct cousins,” Hein said of ProPress and SeaPress. “It’s good that across the Viega family of SeaPress, ProPress and MegaPress that the concepts are very similar, so from the installer’s perspective, they take very similar sets of skills.”
And Viega systems are also designed to last the life of the system. Hein said he believes Viega represents the same life span as conventional piping products, but at a reduced overall cost. Because the majority of Vigor’s work is competitively bid against either regional or national markets, their ability to effectively implement labor dollars is extremely important.
“Seattle is not a low-cost area, so anything we can do to make our labor hours more effective is part of our plan. This makes Viega a good choice,” Hein said. “Any mechanically attached fitting represents better labor dollars which allows us to deliver good value to the citizens of the state whose tax dollars fund these projects.”
Labor savings isn’t the only benefit Hein has seen, however. Whether Vigor is designing the vessel or doing a retrofit, Viega technology allows installers to reach tight spaces where traditional joining methods would prove difficult. That said, it all requires planning.
“You have to be able to fit the jaws around the pipe completely, so confined spaces do require planning just like a welded or brazed product would,” Hein said. “Some of our smaller copper lines are sometimes crammed into a corner, so the operator’s knowledge and familiarity of the product is important to make sure it [is accessible].”
With Viega, you don’t need the same access required to weld or get a torch all the way around the product. That means you don’t have to cover up the paint that’s only two inches away from the pipe or the bulk head for fear of burning it. The crew at Vigor knows things like this from experience, and has also learned from the expertise of Viega’s technical representatives. They are able to bring the technical details and the installation details to every.
“There’s much more to the Viega team than just our local sales rep. He is the conduit, that when combined with our material suppliers, makes sure we get the right information,” Hein said. “The Viega team has been adept at bringing the spectrum of information required for us to install piping products successfully at a competitive cost.”