A Venerable Maritime Firms Goes Big
In late November 2020, Hawboldt Industries—an East Coast company that custom designs and manufactures made-to-order deck equipment—unveiled what might be the largest offshore marine crane ever made in Canada. The mighty HAW66-300K boasts a thirty-five-metre reach, a maximum capacity of three hundred metric tonnes, and cutting-edge crane technology. Based in Chester, Nova Scotia and founded over a century ago, Hawboldt has come a long way from the days it serviced local fishing fleets.
“Within North America, we’re selling the largest, most complex cranes,” says General Sales Manager Gavin Mills.
Weighing roughly 125,000 kilograms, the HAW66-300K was sold to Davie Shipbuilding of Quebec “for installation on the CCGS (Canadian Coast Guard ship) Vincent Massey. The crane will be used as an aid to navigation—also known as buoy tending—in Canadian waters,” he says.
This giant piece of equipment has wireless remote controls and a load moment indicator (LMI) that continuously monitors work functions. If the LMI system detects a hazard, it gives an audio alarm and warning light.
Hawboldt is currently building another offshore marine crane that Mills refers to as “the smaller sibling,” of the HAW66-300K.
This 150K Series crane comes with a thirty-five-metre reach, 150 metric tonne capacity and a weight of 90,000 kilograms. This ‘smaller sibling’ will be “shipped out to the West Coast to be installed on a Coast Guard vessel very shortly. It will also be for aid to navigation/buoy tending work in Canadian waters,” states Mills.
These offshore cranes were built under the auspices of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), a government initiative to build up Canada’s combat and non-combat fleet. While delighted to take on NSS projects, the company would like to expand its scope and find other clients for its gigantic offshore marine cranes.
Besides buoy tending, these mammoth cranes have capabilities ranging from vessel-to-vessel transferring and boat launching to vessel-to-platform transfer, vessel-to-sea-floor transferring, and shipboard services. The offshore cranes are built tough and function fine in both extreme cold and inclement weather.
The company does not just make enormous offshore cranes; Hawboldt offers a full suite of marine services and products including launch and recovery handling systems, ocean science equipment, marine crane, fishing equipment, hydraulic power units, integrated full-deck solutions, propellers, underwater gear, and anchor and mooring deck equipment. The firm also provides propeller repair and excels at electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical engineering. Customers can be found in commercial shipbuilding, fisheries, offshore oil and gas, aid to navigation, ocean sciences research and national defence sectors.
Hawboldt Industries was founded in the early 1900s in Chester, where it is based today. In the beginning, it primarily “supported the burgeoning mechanized fishing industry here when there was a transition from sail to engine-powered vessels,” recalls Mills.
The company sold equipment such as winches and provided services such as propeller repair for local fishing boats. Over the decades, it grew and expanded its range of products, services, and clients, and today, Hawboldt occupies a forty-thousand-square-foot building. Office space for sales, administration, management, quality control, project management, and engineering accounts for a fifth of this space.
“We’re so busy we’ve had to rent a couple of mobile office units that are outside to house more office staff. The office is quite full,” states Mills.
The facility also houses space for manufacturing and repair work. The ISO 9001-certified firm operates a foundry, machine shop, hydraulic and welding shops, and does its own assembly and testing. Testing is mostly conducted outdoors on company grounds.
The propeller department “can cast new propellers, and we can also repair propellers that have some damage. That’s a pretty consistent business that supports almost exclusively the local fishing industry around these parts… We’ve been doing that type of work for a long time,” states Mills.
Hawboldt’s product line includes launch and recovery systems (LARS), scientific winches for ocean research projects, trawl winches for fisheries, marine cranes, propellers (the firm can work with propellers made from a variety of materials including manganese bronze, aluminum, and nickel aluminum bronze), and anchor-related products.
“We have a large engineering department. Designing custom equipment and manufacturing it is what we aim to do whenever we can,” he says. Being centrally located and performing most of its manufacturing gives it an edge over competitors, he says.
From its base in Chester, Hawboldt can utilize resources offered by its parent company, the Timberland Group. Timberland, which acquired Hawboldt in the early 2000s, operates other firms and “has a much bigger shop,” says Mills.
“Certainly, within North America, we feel local support is very important to our customers. Also, we have everything under one roof. A lot of our largest competitors might have offices and work centers in different parts of the world, but we have [everything] in one facility. We’re a lot quicker and better able to get down to the bottom of any questions or issues and get back to our customers in a timely manner,” he points out.
For all this, the company has an international focus. Hawboldt recently shipped an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) launch and recovery system to the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, for example. The recovery system is being used in a high-profile scientific project.
Swedish researchers will be “travelling down to Antarctica. They are taking their AUV, going under an ice shelf that’s as big as the UK. There’s some concern that once [the ice shelf] lets go, it will have a pretty big effect on water levels. We sold a launch recovery system for that AUV, which is their prime piece of science gear. It goes underneath the ice shelf and measures freshwater flow, melting [rates], temperatures, and things like that,” says Mills.
Like all other North American manufacturers, Hawboldt had to adjust to the conditions surrounding COVID-19. When the virus became widespread in March 2020, the company was swift to respond.
“We addressed it early. We sent home as many employees as we could who could work from home. We’re building here, so we’re forced to have people on-site for production and production support, but we have lots of space in the shop. We kept workgroups small and kept them separate from other groups and staggered lunchtimes and start times and whatnot. We also did things like more frequent cleaning, wearing masks whenever you’re away from your desk, sanitizer at key positions, and things like that. We haven’t had any COVID cases since the pandemic broke out, so we think we’re doing pretty good,” states Mills.
The company is proud to be based in Nova Scotia, a part of Canada that’s “not really known as a big OEM hub,” he says. “We’ve been able to grow and provide some really interesting new products, all while based in an area that really doesn’t have that [manufacturing] backbone that you would see in Ontario.”
Regional pride does come at something of a price. “Getting enough qualified employees here to fill the demand we have,” represents the biggest challenge facing the firm. “It’s a struggle in any rural area. We’re just far enough from Halifax that it can be challenging to entice people to come down here, but a lot of times, when people do come down here, they stay, because it’s a beautiful place. We have a huge backlog which we will have for many years, but it’s tough sometimes to get the right people,” notes Mills.
However, Hawboldt’s workforce is on the rise. There are roughly sixty-five workers currently employed at the firm, up from “probably low fifties,” this time last year, he says.
“We’ve got some really good talent here. I’m really excited about what the next few years will show for us,” adds Mills.
The engineering department has been a steady area of growth for the company. The firm also wants to expand its service capabilities. The goal is to be able to provide in-house maintenance for cranes and other products going to national clients such as the Royal Canadian Navy.
There has even been talk about increasing the company’s hometown operations. “We are looking at expanding this facility, especially as equipment like the offshore cranes becomes bigger for us. We need more space. We need heavier lifting equipment. There are no formal plans on when [expansion] will happen, but it’s necessary for us to grow in the future,” he says.
He sees positive things ahead for the firm.
“I think we’ve gained a lot of great experience from the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), not only for large offshore cranes but also for science equipment for whole ship sets. We want to take that experience and be successful outside of Canada and [go beyond] government work, whether that’s through research organizations, research ship builds in the US or globally, or an offshore crane line in offshore energy services, whether that’s oil-and-gas or offshore wind. Those are big areas of focus for us,” says Mills.