On a recent visit to R.W. Fernstrum’s Menominee, Mich., facility just over the Wisconsin-Michigan line, I was given a tour of the manufacturing operation. It may seem strange, but the first thing I noticed was how clean it was. It’s a facility that builds cooling systems for marine applications. I’m not suggesting that it’s a hospital operating room, but for a manufacturing facility, it’s clean, and more importantly — uncluttered.

There was lots of activity in the “engineered cooling solutions” production facility. “We make a very good product.” Dave Peura, Fernstrum’s sales manager said. “We’re very conscious of what our customers want.” Mostly they want to keep their engines, generators and other machinery from overheating. That’s what all of this is about.

Dave Peura, Fernstrum's sales manager. R.W. Fernstrum photo

Dave Peura, Fernstrum's sales manager. R.W. Fernstrum photo

The first station we visited was assembling a heavy walled rectangular copper-nickel Gridcooler keel cooler. Fernstrum uses the alloy because of its durability, heat exchange abilities, resistance to saltwater corrosion, and natural antifouling capabilities. “No other product on the market is built to these standards,” said Peura.

Fernstrum does some aluminum manufacturing. The 5000 Series aluminum Gridcooler keel cooler is designed specifically for unpainted aluminum hull applications in fresh or cold seawater environments. The aluminum alloy was selected based on its compatibility with unpainted aluminum hulls and saltwater corrosion resistance. The alloy compatibility between the hull and keel cooler is designed to prevent pitting and avoids potential damage from interacting metals. Aluminum units are TIG welded for durability. “We do some aluminum production,” said Peura. “It’s a different kind of welding than with other materials.”

I’m not an engineer, so I don’t pretend to understand everything I saw from a technical perspective, but I do have common sense. I can look at people and tell if they would rather be somewhere else. Peura said Fernstrum’s owners provide their employees with a good, safe environment to work in. It certainly looked that way. “We don’t have much turnover. The owners appreciate our workers and take care of them.”

I also was impressed with Fernstrum’s packaging of its products. The cooling system products are shipped in heavy-duty wooden crates that are built at the Michigan facility. “We build our packaging to the standards we build everything else,” said Peura.

It sure looked like it. Fernstrum’s manufacturing facility is a lean, efficient and productive operation. That was my takeaway.

Thanks goes out to Fernstrum’s owners and employees who made us feel so welcome during our visit and to Jessica Gilson and Dave Peura in particular.


Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.