FIBA provides variety of gas storage equipment, services

Feb. 1, 2009
Over 50 years ago, in 1958, Mass Oxygen Equipment Co was formed by Frank Finn and Al Bamford in Westboro, Massachusetts, to distribute industrial and

Over 50 years ago, in 1958, Mass Oxygen Equipment Co was formed by Frank Finn and Al Bamford in Westboro, Massachusetts, to distribute industrial and medical gases.

Now located in Millbury, Massachusetts, the company is known as FIBA Technologies Inc and has changed direction to emphasize manufacturing, rebuilding, repairing, and testing of equipment designed for the industrial and specialty gases, petrochemical, cryogenic, electronics, and chemical industries.

However, the way to the 21st century began with the owners focusing on becoming a major regional cryogenic gases distributor, supplying customers in the Northeast. As the market began to change in the intervening years, the owners made the decision to sell the gases distributorship and concentrate on supplying equipment. As part of the transformation, Finn and Bamford traded their gas business for a fleet of small tube trailers that they soon made available for lease. The leasing aspect was a precursor of things to come as FIBA eventually would manufacture tube trailers for both lease and purchase.

In 1981 the Finn and Bamford families divided the assets of the company. Today, FIBA is led by second-generation Jack Finn, its president and chief executive officer.

Flagship facility

In addition to the worldwide flagship facility in Massachusetts, with production in excess of 3,000 items per year, FIBA operates service facilities in Louisville, Kentucky, East Greenville, Pennsylvania, and Lafayette, Louisiana. The Louisiana facility handles repair and testing.

In Massachusetts, the plant provides full-service finishing and testing services for tubes, skids, trailers, and ASME receivers. In 2004, the company expanded its manufacturing capabilities to include tube manufacturing and dedicated its new 40,000-square-foot assembly plant and a 35,000-square-foot pressure vessel manufacturing facility and engineering offices.

In Louisville, FIBA's operation is a reflection of the company's history, having been born in a consolidation of FIBA Cryogenics and Five K Compressed Gases. Established in 1979, the Kentucky facility functions as a manufacturing, testing, and repair facility serving the cryogenic and high-pressure gas markets. It doubled in size in the mid-1990s to handle the business as industrial gas companies began to develop industrial bases that boosted the market for gases. This facility is currently gearing up to expand its cryogenic ISO container portable tank business for markets overseas, as well as truck-mountable cryogenic tanks for use domestically. Vaporizers also are manufactured in Louisville.

The Pennsylvania center assembles liquid carbon dioxide tank trailers and three models of cryogenic transports. The facility also performs manufacturing and retesting of high-pressure tube trailers, receivers, and skids, and repairs cryogenic and carbon dioxide transport trailers and tank containers.

“We are very service-oriented in all of our divisions,” says Andy Cutts, FIBA vice-president of manufacturing. “The company places great emphasis on its technical, problem-solving, and innovative skills.”

Typical manufacturing processes include building seamless pressurized gas containers for intermodal transportation, such as tube trailers and tube skid containers (multiple-element gas containers). The company offers several tube trailer models to accommodate numerous gas types, payloads, and pressures. They include modular, intermediate, and super jumbo. The modular trailers typically have 18 to 54 tubes to supply a variety of product volumes. The intermediate line is assembled in banks of five tubes and can provide mobile or stationary storage. Superjumbo tube trailers with 10 tubes and a 44-foot chassis operate with pressures in excess of 3,200 psi.

In 2004, after using outside tube makers as suppliers, the company set up its own tube manufacturing site with a spinner containing a metal drum and forming wheel to turn steel pipe into closed-end seamless tubes. This CNC spin forging machine uses proprietary software to form the gas container ends.

Also in the manufacturing lines are ISO tank containers (20-feet long) and stationary tanks (from six to 50 tons) for use with liquefied products. FIBA ISO containers are designed for transporting cryogenic and liquid carbon dioxide products. The portable ISO containers allow transportation by truck, ship, or, in most cases, rail, to destinations worldwide.

In addition, FIBA manufactures seamless pressure vessels designed for stationary storage of high-pressure gases, as well as hydrogen fueling station tubes installed on skids. Pressure vessels are formed from pipe produced for strict tolerances and material specifications. Carbon fiber is wrapped around the steel liner to increase operating pressures to approximately 15,000 psi.

The company also offers many other services related to the gases industry, including compressors, tube receivers, manifolds, vaporizers, as well as a variety of accessories. A parts inventory is established at all locations.

Special permit

Last year, FIBA announced that the Department of Transportation (DOT) had granted the company special permit DOT-SP 14661, which authorizes a 10-year requalification cycle on certain compressed gas tube trailers and ISO skid containers. This special permit requires acoustic emission testing (AET) to assess the integrity of the cylinders and tubes. Also in 2008, FIBA announced that it has been authorized by DOT to manufacture and mark United Nations (UN) tubes built according to ISO design, construction, and testing standard ISO 11120.

“FIBA is the first company in the world to be granted this authorization,” said Chris Adams, FIBA production planner. “It is granted following an extensive audit of our tube manufacturing and quality control processes by the DOT.”

Cutts estimates that the company's services are split equally between manufacturing and maintenance facilities, with tube trailers commanding the majority of repair services. Tank trailer repair and maintenance services are typically conducted at the company's location in Pennsylvania. Both Kentucky and Pennsylvania facilities handle repairs and testing for carbon dioxide tanks mounted on truck chassis and have the capability to assemble the vehicles.

FIBA has rehabilitation and requalification capabilities at all locations that include hydrostatic, acoustic emission, and ultrasonic examination. Services are available for vehicles, including new vapor barriers, insulation, jackets, undercarriages, piping, pumping, metering, and high-gloss coating. Label, placard, and logo decal applications are provided. Among a variety of testing services is acoustic emission diagnostics used to pinpoint vessel conditions that could lead to cracking.

Cryogenic rehabilitation is performed in Kentucky and Pennsylvania where both facilities are ASME-coded shops. The Kentucky shop holds both “U” and “R” stamps, which allow both manufacturing and repair of cryogenic vessels. Maintenance and repair capabilities include leak detection, complete equipment refurbishment, stretching of cryogenic transporters, and product conversions.

Technicians who inspect and repair tanks and cylinders are recertified annually and receive refresher training. Shop employee retention is good, thanks to an intensive background check prior to hiring, says Cutts. Corporate personnel screen applicants and review background checks, but final hiring decisions are made by local managers.

“We look for applicants who have a variety of skills, such as plumbing and welding,” Cutts says.

To coordinate the large company-wide operation, FIBA uses a Sage MAS 500 manufacturing and materials requirement planning (MRP) accounting program that handles inventory control, procurement, production planning, and accounting. With the use of the program, work orders are entered and engineering procurement and inventory are assigned to the job, which are routed through the various production phases and assigned to the shop floor.

Future projections

Increasingly, process gases are being used in a greater extent in manufacturing processes for consumer and industrial products.

“All those manufacturers rely on equipment to store and transport the gases they need,” says Joe Sandello, FIBA executive vice-president. “At the same time, FIBA sees a technology frontier in the storage of alternative fuels for automobiles. If and when the hydrogen-fuel market gets traction in the United States — we expect around 2020 — hydrogen storage should become a standard feature across the country. We also are reviewing huge markets for compressed natural gas in India and China — and for vessels to transport and store it.”

Other gases-related future markets include those related to electronics and solar panels. And, the company forecasts continued demand for the sale and lease of tube trailers, all of which serve the company well for its future successes.

About the Author

Mary Davis