The story begins in Holland in 1947. The Dutch company, then called Bronswerk, was established to design, and build heating solutions for commerce and industry in the Netherlands later moving into the field of heating, air conditioning, ventilation and refrigeration (HVAC-R).
In 1969, Bronswerk became StorkBronswerk following the acquisition of the company by a Dutch conglomerate – Stork BV.
Fast forward to the 1970’s when the Canadian government decided that this country needed to replace some ageing ships for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
As a first step in that process, the Canadian Patrol Frigate program (CPF) was launched and in 1982 Bronswerk, through the Irving Shipyard, won the contract to supply HVAC-R systems for the new ships. As a requirement, and to facilitate design and fabrication of those systems for the frigates, the company set up a subsidiary in Canada.
At the time KLM had direct flights from Holland to only two Canadian cities, Toronto and Montreal, so they began seeking locations near those cities. As an existing heat exchange fabrication firm became available near Montreal, that operation was purchased to enable Bronswerk to begin operations in Canada.
It is important to note that marine HVAC-R systems are vastly different than land-based systems. Considerations for naval systems include not only the need to cope with the much harsher conditions of a saltladen environment, but also withstand the substantial and constant vibrations, pitch and roll, the potential for severe shocks during a combat situation, the need for built-in redundancies – with noise reduction as an important consideration.
With the winding down of the CPF program, operations at Bronswerk slowed. Several smaller contracts were sought elsewhere even as Irving continued to seek the firm’s collaboration in subsequent naval projects.
In 2006, with headquarters based on the south shore of Montreal, the company was bought by the Canadian management team
to become an entirely Canadian company – Bronswerk Marine.
With Canadian contracts lessened, Bronswerk Marine leveraged its increased knowledge, skills, innovation and enhanced reputation in marine systems to seek new markets abroad. This proved successful with international naval contracts and offices opened in France, Turkey, the U.S. and subsequently Australia and soon the U.K.
In the process, the firm became Bronswerk Group now led by CEO Francis Fontaine. He says that with the buyout, the now Canadian company had the ability to make its own decisions and it was at this point it began its trajectory towards becoming a Canadian global leader in marine HVAC-R design and fabrication.
Based upon its growing worldwide reputation as a reliable and innovative supplier, Bronswerk was chosen as a prime contractor for HVAC-R systems for the various combat and noncombat vessels being built for the RCN and Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) fleets, as part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS). With the various ships being built and based on both coasts, Bronswerk opened additional offices in Halifax, NS; St John’s, NL; Victoria, and Vancouver, BC.
This important involvement began with the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) – which is an ongoing program with Irving Shipbuilding – along with Seaspan’s construction of the CCG’s three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSV) as well as the Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel (OOSV), and continues with the Joint Supply Ship (JSS) program for the RCN.
The addition of staff in the new offices was to augment and facilitate the program of In-Service Support (ISS) at the various shipyards and ports. This began in 2012 and substantial data base of performance and expectations of components to enable future improvements.
While RCN and CCG equipment operators will be trained for the specific ship, Bronswerk also provides on-board videos within major
HVAC components to help answer operator questions and ensure they know the intricacies and parameters of the equipment in order to
avoid problems or damage.
Francis Fontaine also notes the fast pace of technology. “As systems can be expected to be in service for up to some 30 years,
technology will likely regularly outpace initial components installed,” he told CDR.
Bronswerk continually monitors technological advances and provides upgrades to ensure reliable, top-level capabilities aboard and ensure they meet all maritime and naval standards.
In light of keeping designs at the highest level, there is strong collaboration across the Bronswerk Group operations so that innovations created or learned in one country are passed on to others in the Group. In addition, Fontaine says “training as a marine HVAC-R professional doesn’t really exist in “plug and play” system whereby should a component fail, it can be quickly replaced with a backup component, so the mission is not compromised. This concept is now being promoted on refit programs.
Although the various ships perform different roles, have different needs and are based thousands of kilometres apart, Bronswerk seeks to reduce client costs and supply chain issues through creating commonality of components whenever possible.
Having been chosen as a prime contractor for naval surface vessels, submarine, and coast guard programs abroad, Fontaine
again notes that innovations developed in these other situations have the possibility of being extrapolated to the various programs
in Canada such as Bronswerk’s ongoing work with the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) program of 15 ships.
He points out that since the company became Canadian, several previous competitors which did not invest in their staff and new technologies have been left behind, especially in the naval/coast guard specialty where the Bronswerk Group has become an equally important role as the firm seeks to maintain optimum performance from its systems including upgrades as new technology is developed.
This is a part of the objectives of an overall industry concept called “Shipbuilding 4.0” in which lifecycle end-end costings
Bronswerk is heavily involved in this new 4.0 concept in seeking to provide both themselves as supplier, and clients, with accurate models that optimize in-service support activities like the ability to perform predictive maintenance routines instead of scheduled ones.
Costings include not only initial design, fabrication, and installation, but also maintenance (which in turn includes repairs, predictive/preventative maintenance, and consumables such as filters etc,), energy use costs, and eventual removal and recycling. As
such, Bronswerk has developed a number of “smart” controls and sensors which serve to enhance individual component and system
function but also monitor and gather data on that performance and provide information on use, wear, and service-life expectations of the
This helps anticipate repair or replacement needs prior to issues arising. Moreover, such data collection helps to build the already Canada so young engineers who may be quite familiar with land-based designs, are assigned to experienced staff to learn the intricacies of the complex marine HVAC&R requirements. This can take anywhere from two to three years,” he told CDR.
PLUG & PLAY SYSTEMS
Bronswerk has also developed a patented modular technology for rapid and easy replacement of components, a so-called increasingly known as a dynamic, world-class operation.
As a proudly Canadian firm which has earned a reputation as an innovative supplier with a strong and reliable ISS program, Fontaine is quite confident about Bronswerk’s future in serving Canada for the next 40 years.