75 Years of Marine Cooling Excellence

This year marks another milestone for R.W. Fernstrum in Menominee MI. 75 years ago the company was formed around an idea for a closed-circuit, marine cooling system small enough for US Navy landing craft. Robert Fernstrum, an engineer at Gray Marine in Detroit, moved his family back to his hometown of Menominee, Michigan to start his company around the product which has evolved into a global leading name in the marine industry.
From a single office on the Menominee waterfront, Robert grew the company by perfecting his design and manufacturing process. By the 1960s, Robert had brought on his sons, David and Paul, to help expand his operations. Paul, who had the family eye for manufacturing and an engineering degree from Michigan Tech, started his career as a draftsman. Paul further developed the GRIDCOOLER® keel cooler designs and would later move Fernstrum into the computer age.
By the 1970s, the company looked at bringing the manufacturing process in-house and built the first phase of its facility on 11th Avenue in Menominee, where it still operates today. This was a time of growth that saw the first non-family members joining the office staff. Paul started the move from adding machines to electronic calculators and computers.
During the marine industry’s economic slump in the 1980s, Fernstrum made improvements in manufacturing and expanded their product lines with low volume, custom design options. Greater efficiency in engineering and fabrication areas helped create these opportunities for new designs using customer input and proven fabrication techniques. By the end of the decade, the transition from pen and paper to CAD for keel cooler design was complete, as was the move to computers for sizing units.
The 1990s started a growth in both the company and commercial marine industry as a whole. It was at this time that Sean and Todd Fernstrum, Paul’s sons, joined the company full-time. After following the family educational trait at Michigan Tech, they became the 3rd generation within the growing family business. These new faces brought new ideas, and by the beginning of the 2000s, Fernstrum had introduced their exclusive Enhanced Tube units, Z-Option flanged units, and a partnership with Dutch company WEKA Marine to manufacture and sell WEKA Boxcoolers®. Instead of the external, hull-mounted GRIDCOOLER keel coolers, WEKA’s boxcoolers were mounted within a sea chest opening new opportunities for the company.
The 1990s and 2000s also saw Fernstrum expand into other parts of the commercial marine market. Power generation, including hydroelectric, tidal, and wind along with alternative fuels like CNG, LNG, electric, and hybrid electric are all areas that Fernstrum now operates in. Buoys, ROVs, AUVs, and a growing assortment of drones also found utility in Fernstrum’s varied lines of heat exchangers. More recently, Fernstrum has partnered with Omega Thermo Products to expand its heat exchanger options even further. Omega’s Laser Plate pillow plate heat exchangers provide prime surface heating and cooling for a wide variety of applications.
Following the family’s footsteps, Jeremy and Rachel Fernstrum now bring a 4th generation pride to the company and ensure family leadership for years to come. “Looking back at our history, our generations of our family as well as generations of our employees have put Menominee on the map.” Shared Sean Fernstrum, president of R.W. Fernstrum. “ Our products, made right here in our local community, can be found on every continent, providing cooling and heating to a wide variety of vessels…In fact, I just recently spoke with a customer whose grandfather bought the GRIDCOOLER® keel cooler they are still using from my grandfather nearly 70 years ago.”
R.W. Fernstrum & Company is a global leader in engineering and manufacturing custom heat exchangers for the marine industry. Fernstrum’s product offerings have grown through strategic partnerships with WEKA Marine B.V. and Omega Thermo Products. These heat exchangers are engineered for propulsion engines, generator sets, reduction gears, auxiliary systems, and for other equipment and cargo limited only by your imagination onboard vessels of all sizes, worldwide. For more information, visit www.fernstrum.com.