To those who say U.S. manufacturing is dead, you need to visit the International WorkBoat Show. Here is an industry in which American products continue to dominate. Most major diesel engine makers, parts manufacturers and boatbuilders for the workboat market are U.S. companies.
As I strolled the aisles at last week’s show in New Orleans, I saw many global companies to be sure, but I also saw many brand names my father would have recognized. One was keel cooler manufacturer R.W. Fernstrum. I stopped at their booth to talk to Sean Fernstrum about his family business.
“My grandfather started the company, he had a machine shop in Detroit,” Sean said. “During World War II, he created a more efficient closed heat transfer system that was used on the Higgins landing craft.” The patent Robert W. Fernstrum obtained for the first rectangular tube keel cooler in 1945 was among the first of several dozen patents as he continued to develop the company’s GRIDCOOLER that is now ubiquitous in the workboat industry.
The company is now located in Menominee, Mich., and after expanding production facilities by a third and doubling their workforce in 2008, the company is now doubling its office space to accommodate its global expansion. “Most companies are outsourcing, but we are in sourcing,” Sean said.
The Dutch manufacturer Waka has asked Fernstrum to build box coolers for them. They are also teaming with an open system heat transfer company to become a “one stop shop” for marine cooling.
Perhaps our modern throwaway culture needs to take a look at the workboat industry to see how American manufacturing can survive and thrive on quality products.