Liferaft Systems Australia, LSA, is a dynamic, privately owned company established in 1992 with the vision to improve life saving systems and products.
And while the company has already achieved international recognition and success in manufacturing high quality Marine Evacuation Systems, MES, it is now also looking to a future that includes the aviation and aerospace sectors.
LSA manufactures a wide range of inflatable large capacity liferafts and slides for all types of passenger vessels, including conventional ferries, high-speed craft, cruise ships and military vessels.
Managing director, Mike Grainger, says the company’s main objective is to provide a product that is synonymous with quality and reliability, which is of paramount importance in the marine safety industry.
“LSA is developing this objective through a continual program of design enhancements, constantly striving to maintain and improve our quality systems, providing excellent service, and keeping close contact with our valued customers.”
Grainger says that as an international exporter, LSA must maintain strict commercial policies, which are clearly understood by a myriad of cultures.
The company also has a worldwide service network ensuring agents are on hand in all the countries where its products are used and operated.
“Our marine evacuation system, which delivers passengers and crew, dry shod, directly into liferafts, has proven to be the safest and most effective means of marine evacuation,” Grainger said.
“The LSA system is the only approved system in the world, which evacuates passengers and crew directly from the vessel into large capacity liferafts via an inclined evacuation slide, without the use of a boarding ramp of any type. The system also has the unique capability of recovering passengers back on board in a rescue situation.”
According to Grainger, deployment of the evacuation system, which comprise an inflatable liferaft and slide, can be accomplished by one person with minimal training and can evacuate one hundred passengers in less than four minutes.
The system can either be released by a manually operated vacuum release system or by a hydrostatic release unit.
Based in Tasmania, LSA exports its products and systems to a number of countries and facilities including the Netherlands, the US and Norway. The equipment is serviced annually by a network of LSA certified representatives as part of its quality management system and commitment to safety.
Grainger says he became interested in starting the business in order to find a safer, more efficient way to evacuate people from a passenger ferry in the event of emergency.
“Prior to 1992, the chairman of Incat – the Tasmanian builder of large wave piercing catamarans for the international passenger ferry market – identified a requirement for an improved evacuation system.
The evacuation systems at the time were slow to evacuate, approximately twenty minutes to evacuate one hundred people. The systems were incredibly unreliable, injured the evacuees and were heavy and cumbersome.
“When we came along in 1992, we were the first to evacuate one hundred passengers directly into a large capacity liferaft, dry shod in approximately three minutes. Our system remains the safest, most compact, lightest and fastest evacuation system available.
"We were the first company to design, manufacture and have an internationally approved MES which has a large capacity liferaft directly attached to an inclined, inflatable slide.”
Training and meeting strict international regulations continue to be among the many challenges facing the company.
“Our challenges have been and are similar to any manufacturing company. We are the only company in Australia building MES and therefore we are required to train all of our employees ‘in house’.
"We are required to comply with international regulations specifically designed for our industry and the testing and bureaucracy which goes with it is quite onerous,” Grainger said.
Grainger said LSA had implemented a diversification program to ensure it does do not fall into a single product category.
“We did not want to run the risk of ‘having all of our eggs in one basket’. We need to manage growth in line with our strict quality procedures so as to minimise the possibility of product failure.
“All of our products are designed, manufactured and operationally packed from our purpose built facility in Tasmania. We conduct all prototype testing in Tasmania. Because we are manufacturing to an international set of regulations, our raw materials are imported and then used in the manufacture of our products.”
Due to the inherent design of the MES, the company needs a large area for production and testing and is looking at further expansion.
“Our present floor space is approximately 3000 square metres which at this time is only just sufficient. We have increased the layout by way of mezzanine floors etc and therefore maximised the actual production space which we have available.
'We currently employ around fifty people which works well in the space we have, however if we needed to expand by say twenty-five percent it could get a little crowded.”
Raw materials for the production are mostly imported, although LSA is able to source locally manufactured metal items that meet design specifications.
Grainger explains that the raw materials, like fabric, inflation systems, adhesive and launch systems need to be internationally approved and stamped.
“Since we are the only company in Australia that manufactures to this international requirement there is no supplier of these materials, therefore we import our raw materials.
'However we do use locally manufactured metal items such as the stowage cradles, which the system is launched from, and our liferaft containers are manufactured locally to our design specifications.
“In production, the fabric is marked and cut using CAD/CAM technology then welded into air holding tubes using radio frequency welding technology. The air holding tubes are then manually glued together to form the liferaft or slide using cold stick adhesives.
'Once the product is completely formed, the inflation system is integrated and then the product is operationally packed for export. Various quality checks are made throughout the complete manufacturing process.”
Grainger says the company is continually expanding and looking for niche markets to enter and is excited about a number of new products to be launched in the near future.
“We have always intended to be a low volume, high margin, specialist manufacturer of inflatable products, particularly in the life saving and military area. We have some new products, which will be launched soon, such as our new twenty metre evacuation slide which we believe is a breakthrough in design and capability.
'We believe that this new slide will be the new generation of inflatable slides due to the significant step forward in strength and rigidity, all achieved by the inherent design and manufacturing processes we have implemented.
“We have recently entered into discussions with a major aircraft manufacturer for the supply of aircraft evacuation slides which, if we are successful, will create a whole new ‘aviation and aerospace sector’ to our business.
'The aviation market is something we will pursue as a natural progression to our core business but with the same attitude of providing a new generation product which will be a significant improvement on the industry standard.”