Glosten: 60 Years of Design Innovation
May 1, 2018
A steadfast culture of innovation has anchored one of the country's most prominent naval architecture and marine engineering firms across six decades in business.
Seattle-headquartered Glosten has constantly garnered global attention and has thrived despite industry and global economic fluctuations, as well as changes in technologies and design. The company boasts 88 employees; 11 at its Massachusetts-based subsidiary, Noise Control Engineering, LLC, and 77 in the downtown Seattle office.
"We've been very successful at hiring engineers who aren't just focused on one discipline, but have a much broader capability within naval architecture and marine engineering," says Morgan Fanberg, Principal, Marine Engineering, a 21-year Glosten veteran. "The talent we've been able to capture in this office is phenomenal as far as pushing the bounds of technology, looking outward at other industries and how they use new technology, and then applying that to naval architecture."
Glosten began with founder Larry R. Glosten at the helm of his one-person firm in 1958. Since then, the company has had many enduring client relationships. Two early ones include the Upper Columbia River Towing Company (subsequently called Pacific Island Navigation, eventually acquired by Crowley Maritime), and Foss Maritime (then known as Foss Launch and Tug Co.).
Tug and barge design was the order of the day, and Glosten was kept busy with developing designs for both at-sea and on-river vessels, plus various bulk cargo, liquid and container-carrying barges. In fact, innovation began early on when Larry Glosten designed Sea-Link, the forerunner to today's Articulated Tug and Barge unit, for which he was awarded a patent.
Back then, naval architects worked with paper blueprints and slide rules. And while blueprints are still used today, the majority of vessels designs are developed using sophisticated software programs and accessed anywhere via an Internet connection.
"There certainly have been many changes in how we've designed vessels and platforms over time," says William L. Hurley Jr., past Glosten Chairman and President, with over 40 years at the firm. "We've always pushed into the future implementing tools and capabilities to make us more capable and more efficient, recently implementing new vessel production software from Europe, and leveraging the talents and creativity of a new generation of design staff joining the company."
Oceanographic research vessel design has also been one of the mainstays for Glosten. In the 1960s, the firm produced a ground-breaking design for Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The Floating Instrument Platform R/P FLIP is 355-feet-long. Its innovative design allows it to partially flood and pitch backward 90 degrees. The bulkheads turn into decks in the process, with the front 55 feet of the platform sprouting above the waterline.
In another first, in the 1970s, the company undertook a load analyses project for the first arctic Sea Lift on the Alyeska Pipeline project at Alaska's North Slope, on the barges that would have to endure on the long trip from the west coast.
Hydro-elastic analyses was also pioneered at Glosten in 1979 when the firm was hired by the Washington State Department of Transportation to assess the response to short-crested waves after the Hood Canal floating bridge sank in a fierce storm. Thus began an era that continues today-the company has provided in-depth evaluations of wind and wave actions for numerous floating bridges, including the recently-completed Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (SR520) project in Seattle.
When the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in 1989, it had a huge impact on Glosten. "We got years and years of work which allowed us to grow," says current, and fifth president, John A. Springer III, who began his career at Glosten in 1987. "That one disaster and all the regulations that came out of it was a driver."
During this time, Glosten was also called upon to participate, alongside regulators and other stakeholders, in developing new requirements for tug-tanker escorts in North Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay and Prince William Sound. Engineering support was also provided for the construction of Lindsey Foss and Garth Foss escort tanker tugs that ushered in a new standard of purpose-built vessels for this sector. Ocean-going research vessel refits were also gaining traction during this time, with Melville and Knorr, operated by Scripps and Woods Hole respectively, being modified with the installation of the first Z-drive thrusters to be installed in research vessels.
More recently, Glosten designed the R/V Sikuliaq for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This research ship is the only ship in the national academic fleet rated for year-round operations in first-year ice. On the international research vessel stage, Glosten led the design of a 78-meter vessel for Xiamen University in China.
In the past decade, marine construction has become a steady source of work. The majority of projects have involved helping contractors work on locks and dams on the river systems and at port facilities by providing load, sea fastening, and mooring analyses for these projects as well as for site demolitions.
Now with today's advanced 3D computer and real-time sharing technologies, it's easier to share designs with clients, no matter where they're located. "It has helped our clients be part of the design process," says Fanberg. "When we've completed a certain percentage of design work, we can virtually walk clients through our progress. Instead of a 2D diagram where it's hard to conceptualize, they're able to really visualize the design."
Glosten put this new technology to work on the design of the new arctic Class of tugs for Foss Maritime. Foss engaged Glosten to execute this new design from concept through detailed production design – both packages being developed simultaneously.
In addition, with the advent of 3D scanning, the design and production process is now more streamlined and less costly. As Fanberg points out, the added complexity from using this technology comes from the processing time required to manipulate large amounts of data. "We've done a great job developing an efficient, in-house process of transferring raw 3D laser-scan data into useful design work," he explains.
Springer reflects back to when computers were in their infancy and did not offer much in the way of help for naval architects. "When I started, most of the computers in the world tied together probably couldn't have run the calculations that we're doing now, especially the Computational Fluid Dynamics." The key is to use these tools early as they come along, adds Hurley.
Glosten has weathered the many changes in vessel design, materials and technologies over its 60 years. As a result, the company has developed a marine electrical engineering group to adapt to the changing industry. This is in addition to its established sectors in vessel design, compliance, energy, marine offshore structures, and unique projects (supporting the demolition of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, for instance.)
Glosten's ability to endure is based on building strong relationships, both with clients and with employees. The enterprise is employee-owned – employees have the option to purchase shares, then sell them as they look toward retirement. "We get to chart our own path with what we want to do and how we want to go about doing it. I think that helps a lot with employee retention," says Fanberg.
"What's remained the same has been our core values of client service and exceptional engineering expertise," says Hurley. "And then really paying attention to the associates that work here, keeping our culture very strong. Retaining those core values through all these years has given us a strong base and enabled implementation of the emerging technology advances."
With such plentiful service offerings and proven longevity, Glosten anticipates a solid future. New naval architecture and marine engineering graduates are hired into the firm every year, which infuses the company with fresh insights, intellectual curiosity and a willingness to develop additional capabilities.
"It's a wonderful field to get involved with because there's always some new and different problem to solve," says Hurley. "We focus on bringing in our next management team and eliciting the strength and the ambitions of the next generation."
The next president at the helm, as of May 2018 is Fanberg, who, like his predecessors, will chart a course that will keep Glosten on the same successful path heading well into the decades ahead.