Handling with care
Lawson Engineers is a family owned mechanical handling systems business based in the UK, established over the last 45 years as a reliable partner to both small firms and multinational corporations.
Its product portfolio includes ROV Launch and Recovery Systems (LARS), cranes, hydraulic power units, winches, lifts and pressure vessels. These are manufactured largely on a bespoke basis through close co-operation with its customers.
Though the business began in Carlisle in 1965, it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Lawson Engineers entered the oil and gas sector, and following the demise of much of Britain’s industry in the early 1980’s the company found oil and gas its core business sector. Since then Lawson Engineers’ policy has been to maintain a small yet flexible operation and today it employs 21 staff split equally between workshop and design roles.
Director, Robert Lawson, comments on the advantages of remaining a small company: “We have a small, highly experienced team with a strong background in crane and winch design. Small teams move fast and are more flexible, responding to challenges quickly, and this is reflected in our history of bespoke machine deliveries. Our size also means that operators offshore talk directly to the designer if a boat rings in with a query or problem.”
The company’s philosophy is to encourage long-term relationships with its clients, with some partnerships stretching back over 20 years. The roster of customers includes small businesses as well as notable companies such as Fugro, SonSub, Perry Slingsby Systems Ltd, Canyon Offsore and Technip, all of which have given Lawson Engineers repeat business over the years, some in excess of 30 machines.
Whilst its portfolio contains differing products such as pressure-test vessels, dirty work packs, davits, hoists and lifts, the company’s most commonly requested units are ROV Launch and Recovery Systems with over 100 supplied since 1985. The range of variants is wide; from one tonne to 25 tonne SWL, and storing up to 6000m of cable. “One type of Work Class sized LARS we have provided transforms into a certified sea container,” Robert explains, “meaning it can be shipped anywhere in a container ship”. A new lightweight eight tonne SWL LARS is currently on-test, and this complements the existing range of 3000 and 4000 metre LARS. All design development and manufacture being carried out in-house in parallel with other activities.
With bespoke manufacture central to Lawson Engineers’ operations it’s no surprise that research and development (R&D) is a crucial aspect of the company, and the business uses its 45-year back-catalogue to good advantage. “If we see something similar to what has already been done – even decades before – we are able to take the basic model and update it. That gives us a starting point and continuity of approach,” highlights Robert.
Parallel to this library is a commitment to ongoing R&D guided by customer requirements. The company works in other industries, so ideas found in for example, pharmaceutical automation get transferred to the offshore sector. This combined with an appreciation for engineering progression, seeking to evolve systems rather than speculating on entirely new concepts, results in a history of technological innovation. Like much of the offshore industry, Lawson Engineers has found the market tougher over the last two years. Robert comments on how flexibility helps safeguard the company: “In busy periods, to tackle the disadvantage of being small, trusted associates carry out fabrication and machining whilst we essentially become a design, assembly and test house. Conversely, when the market is quiet, all work is carried out in-house: we retain all the necessary skills.”
The last few months have seen industry activity increasing and Lawson Engineers has experienced a surge in quotations. This is no guarantee of contracts, but reflects growing confidence in the sector and therefore opportunities of growth for companies such as Lawson Engineers, which already has the reputation and knowledge to provide high quality services. Although Robert is keen to control growth he has an interest in expanding what the company can offer. “One area we’re looking at is small, lighter ROV LARS,” he explains. “Everything has grown during recent years, with vehicles and systems increasingly larger, but I think there is a desire out there for smaller, more compact units and this area we are addressing.”
Looking to the future, Robert concludes: “There’s a lot of refurbishment happening at the moment because, with capital expenditure tight, customers know it’s wise to spend 30 per cent of their budget upgrading an old machine rather than 100 per cent on an entirely new one. For our part, this rolling programme of rebuilds, new LARS and a dozen winches in production keeps us busy.”
Lawson Engineers Ltd
Products: Cranes, winches, Launch & Recovery Systems