When cheap isn’t cheerful

Trelleborg compression tests fenders Trelleborg compression tests fenders

Fenders containing high levels of recycled rubber are a poor substitute for the genuine article, Richard Hepworth of Trelleborg Marine Systems tells Maritime Journal, despite labels saying PIANC approved.

Firstly, Mr Hepworth explains that because the price of recycled rubber does not vary much over time, some fender traders can undercut manufacturers using better-quality virgin rubber who have to allow for fluctuating raw material prices. Although this keeps costs stable it has a knock-on effect on lifetime and quality.

Mr Hepworth says that Trelleborg’s tests showed that some other fenders were lower quality and lower performance than claimed, falling short of PIANC’s 2002 guidelines and containing a high percentage of both recycled rubber and filler. However, he said, “In the marine fender industry, there has been very little evidence to date to substantiate the benefits of using virgin over recycled rubber.”

So, Trelleborg thought it was time to demonstrate the differences by taking one fender made from virgin rubber, one composed of recycled rubber and putting them through stringent tests in a third party laboratory. The properties of the two differed quite dramatically, with the low cost option having a third less tensile strength, around a quarter less resistance to elongation and breakage, and around four times as much ash filler, leading to reduced longevity.

Mr Hepworth adds that it is arguable whether port owners understand the pitfalls of both putting their trust in cheaper options and also taking PIANC type approval for the product at face value. He goes on to explain that while PIANC’s 2002 ‘Guidelines for the design of fender systems’, are intended to ensure that high standards are maintained, “the term ‘PIANC certification’ or ‘type approved’ is misleading” he says, because the organisation does not regulate the industry or enforce standards.

Tellingly, Trelleborg found that fenders with recycled rubber and filler are heavier (and denser) than virgin rubber fenders. This significant weight difference enables a user to spot whether a fender uses low cost recycled materials, or is the genuine article, made with high performance rubber compound, with the benefits of long life and superior resilience.

Mr Hepworth concludes, “Decision makers should be aware of these key differences and the varying quality on offer when buying on the basis of short term cost savings. There is a need for the whole industry to come together to discuss changes to a culture that is causing unprecedented levels of downtime and putting ports at risk.”

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