Ice spurs innovation

May 19, 2015

Viking Life-Saving Equipment is taking PPE to the limit. Meg Chesshyre explains.

Viking’s polar liferaft is ready for use—even at -58°F.  Photos from Viking Life-Saving Equipment

Arctic exploration is leading to a continuous process of innovation around equipment, but also for the clothes crew need to wear in harsh environments.

For Denmark’s Viking Life-Saving Equipment, innovation and improvements in personal protective equipment (PPE) has meant pushing the boundaries to meet the harsh weather conditions, often going beyond regulatory requirements including putting new immersion suit designs through the most rigorous sub-zero test conducted to date.

“Arctic/polar is a particular focus area for the company, and a niche market,” explains Benny Carlsen, vice president of offshore with Viking. The company was founded in 1960 in the west coast fishing port of Esbjerg to make liferafts to counter loss of life in the North Sea fishing fleet. After the terrible loss of life through drowning incidents suffered by merchant sailors during the Second World War, the populace voiced its general frustration that not enough was being done to prevent this otherwise avoidable fate. In response, director Tage Sørensen founded Viking Life-Saving Equipment (then called Nordisk Gummibådsfabrik) to manufacture liferafts for fishing vessels.

One of Viking Life-Saving Equipment’s key product groups for the offshore industry is its immersion suits. The latest, known as the Viking PS5002, has been developed to meet polar-conditions and independently tested at temperatures as low as 62.6°C (144.68°F), Carlsen says. This is one of the most rigorous sub-zero tests ever conducted on this type of PPE, and was verified by Copenhagen-based FORCE Technology.

Someone has to test them – Viking Life-Saving Equipment’s combined harsh environment immersion suit. 

“We work with Gore and other material manufacturers all the time, and check that all materials are suitable for -60°C,” Carlsen says.

Currently the company’s PPE equipment is supplied on a regular basis for projects in Russia, Norway and the Canadian Arctic regions, and testing programs are ongoing. Testing authorities include DNV and Lloyds, as well as at Force Technology.

The new PS5002 multilayer suit, constructed with a PU-coated nylon outershell and a thermal quilt liner system that builds on 30 years of immersion suit design, features a double layer of insulation that offers protection from extreme cold. The integrated inherent buoyancy keeps as much of the wearer’s body as possible clear of the freezing water, so the suit can be worn without a lifejacket. The double-insulation layer design extends the length of time the wearer can be expected to survive.

Also new to the PS5002 is Viking’s high visibility yellow. Both the extended survival time and higher visibility can be decisive factors in a part of the world that experiences around-the-clock darkness for much of the year. According to SOLAS guidelines, an immersion suit of this type should be capable of being donned in five minutes or less at temperatures as low as -30°C (two minutes in regular temperatures). The packed PS5002 immersion suit was refrigerated at -60°C for 24 hours before being removed and put on by a test person.

In every instance, the suit was put on well within the allotted time. The extreme test temperatures are also in response for the need for the equipment to withstand being stored in a container on deck. Following testing, each suit was assessed for signs of damage, including cracking, dissolution or changes in mechanical qualities, but none was discovered.

Benny Carlsen

Viking’s suits and other safety equipment are used globally. The company has seen a steady increase in the use of Viking’s products in polar regions by both offshore and commercial shipping, but Carlsen admits it is hard to tell what will happen in the immediate future with the falling oil price, as the breakeven price on Arctic operations is obviously higher than for other projects.

Viking is the only marine safety equipment manufacturer to offer a full package of products for polar conditions, ranging from suits and lifejackets to liferafts, containers, evacuation systems and lifesaving appliances (LSA). The upgraded PS5002 is the latest in a line-up of innovations keeping Viking’s range up to speed with developments in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

Privately-owned Viking is headquartered in Esbjerg, Denmark, and has 2000 employees worldwide. Annual turnover is around DKK1.7 billion. Products are manufactured at facilities in Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria and Thailand.

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