High quality marine rubber airbags are commonly used for projects in the heavy industry and marine shipbuilding sector.
Some of their most common uses are as follows:
- Launching of 250-ton to 10,000-ton ships or boats. Sometimes even more
- Launching of heavy large structures up to 10,000-tons
- Hauling out of large marine structures including ships for repairs or recycle
- Providing additional buoyancy for marine salvage projects or flotation needs (i.e. reducing draft of barges etc)
- Mobilisation of heavy structures on land (a suitable alternative to transporters)
(Below: MAX Marine Airbag used for ship launching)
The usage of marine airbags are especially common in Asia, particularly in the shipbuilding space. However, there has been a misconception in the product, as well as large differences in pricing available in the market. In fact, many of the suppliers claim they are providing xx amount of layers, xx amount of weight etc to justify that their product quality is the same as many of the trusted manufacturers’ products. The vast differences in prices manage to confuse many of these airbag buyers. So, what are the “promises” usually made that a buyer should be careful of?
If you don’t know of marine airbags, and would like to learn more about it, here’s our product page.
Interested to learn how our on-site team can help with mobilisation, launching and hauling? Visit our service page.
It is not uncommon to hear certain suppliers claim something along the lines of “Our rubber airbag of this size weighs xx kg, it proves that our materials are of good quality and we give you more bang for your buck!” or when the weight info is more than a competitor, they claim that their airbags “have more materials in it so it is better!”. However, one should really understand what’s in an airbag, and how weight is affected. And by understanding more, you will see why this is a huge misconception.
Ship-launching airbags are made from rubber and strengthened by cords to provide sufficient bearing capacity. In the act of confusing buyers, some manufacturers actually have more unwanted foreign materials in the rubber sheets, which actually makes them heavier. Rubber is relatively less dense. The availability of more foreign substances in rubber will make them much heavier, but at what cost? It will substantially decrease the elasticity (which means it will fail much sooner after a couple of uses). Some even speed up aging of the rubber and massively decrease its usage safety.
Not all of them do this on purpose, though. Some have these added unneeded foreign materials in the rubber sheets due to dirty working environment or poor quality control procedures. Yet, an overly-aggressive salesperson sometimes mislead and even turn this “higher weight” info into a ‘good’ point to convince buyers. That is why in our facility, we ensure a clean working environment and set-up strict procedures to curb this issue. Only those materials intended to go into a quality marine airbag, goes into them.
Fact #1: Weight is not a good indicator of quality.
2. Raw Materials
Ideally, airbags should be made of new rubber material that adheres to the following standards:
- ISO34-1 Tear Strength ≥400 N/cm
- ISO37 Tensile Strength ≥18 MPa, Elongation at Break ≥400%
- ISO1761-1 Hardness (Shore A) 60±10°
- ISO815-1 Compression Set
- ISO188 Requirements After Thermal Aging
- ISO1431-1 After Static Ozone Ageing
The keyword here is new. MAX NEVER uses recycled or reclaimed rubber material in airbag production. This is a huge red flag. Quality rubber makes the foundation of the whole “inflatable roller” idea, especially when it has to bear very high values of weight on top. Recycled and reclaimed rubber have substantially lower elasticity and has a very fast ageing rate which compromises the integrity of airbags. Use these recycled rubber airbags a couple of times and you will realise they burst very easily.
On the other hand, cords play a big role, too. These “tire cords” are supposed to be three-strand cords with more than 205 N strength per cord. Some manufacturers, like MAX, procure and use a higher strength cord (above required standard) to ensure quality strength; but some other suppliers use two-strand cords with lower strength sometimes. There is also the difference with other cords like dacron cords etc. The difference in use of raw materials can have a cost difference of more than 65%!!
Fact #2: Raw materials in airbags are sometimes very different from one another, and hard to detect.
3. Fabrication Technology
Given all the materials are constant, do you think the end product will be the same? That is not actually the case. Even if both makers are using the same type of materials, the technology and expertise in production would set them apart. It is important for a manufacturer to suitably use certain types of automation and machines to standardise certain procedures, ensuring a very consistent output which minimises mistakes and errors. Skilful workers (and NOT general workers) are needed. With much experience, these personnel are the ones who will make sure every step is according to standard and will result in a consistent, high quality airbag. Details like the alignment, tightness and strength of parts should be inspected closely.
At MAX, we practise a new innovative fabrication technology. This practice enables us to fabricate rubber marine airbags in a more consistent manner, enhancing strength by having multi-directional overlapping layers and minimise human errors.
In addition, we have highly qualified vulcanisation experts. When it comes to manufacturing these high pressure airbags, vulcanisation is a key process where over-vulcanisation or under-vulcanisation can bring very large performance differences!
Fact #3: Even with the same materials, it is impossible to expect two different manufacturers to have exact product result, because of different fabrication technology and manufacturing processes. Some are better than the others.
4. Layer Quantity Overstatement
Imagine the shock when we encountered some customers came to us asking for a 15-layer airbag!
Most ships/structures can be handled with our 7-layer type airbags, or in some cases (sharp hull or challenging work conditions) maybe up 10 layers. But anything more than 10 is definitely not necessary. These overstatements cause industry-wide confusion, and buyers thought they are getting more with these cheap prices. However, we are convinced our MAX 7-layer type airbags would perform better than many of those “15-layer” airbags. Truly reputable suppliers will understand that these high layer counts mean nothing. For those “15-layer” claims, how many layers do you think you are getting?
Also, quantity is not everything. It is vital for the buyers to educate themselves of the difference in quality. And the best part is to try our products to see the difference for themselves!
Fact #4: Find a trusted manufacturer who does not over-promise and under-deliver.
5. Third Party Inspection
Third party inspection is great. Our company happily offers third party inspection certificates from various inspection parties upon customer’s request. However, it is important to understand that inspections are not a guarantee of product quality. They are only able to make sure they are made according to standard guidelines. It does not ensure the product quality is on par with another similarly inspected product. Because these inspections are made with overall product outer inspections.
As we have mentioned earlier, it is a combination of the finest raw materials and skilful fabrication expertise that makes a product great. The fabrication skill can’t be “inspected” and compared on a newly made product. Besides, some manufacturers like MAX even go above and beyond the guidelines to use much higher grade materials in our products.
A more specific example would be product lifespan: product A and product B might work the same for the first two uses, but gradually, you will realise product A degrades, loses its flexibility and strength faster; while product B maintains its performance, and has a much longer useful life. In the long term, you would save more by using product B, even if sometimes it cost a little more upfront.
Fact #5: Third party inspection is not able to 100% ensure integrity of airbag. Find a trusted source.
Try them out
So, these are some of the common misconceptions of marine airbag buyers. Some of these points actually apply to our other products like pneumatic fenders, dredging hoses, foam fenders, rubber fenders, winches etc too. If you are currently using other brand’s products, try contacting us to get a quote. We are confident that if you tried our rubber airbags, you will realise the difference upon usage!