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For helicopter operators in the aerial firefighting business, using high-quality, reliable equipment is vital. Likewise, having sufficient support and training for that equipment is equally important. SEI Industries Ltd., based in Delta, British Columbia, has held a strong belief in these aspects for nearly four decades.
Renowned for its Bambi Bucket application, SEI believes that providing outstanding customer service and building top-notch products have been fundamental to the company’s success in enabling aerial operators to fight wildfires around the globe.
“We understand that when our customers are in a firefighting situation, they need a reliable product,” said Sergio Fukamati, director of SEI’s firefighting division. “If they need parts or if they damage the bucket during operation, we are prepared to support them.”
The history of the Bambi Bucket goes back to 1982, when Don Arney, a helicopter pilot, came up with the idea of developing a collapsible water bucket that could be slung below a helicopter. A business that began in Arney’s garage with a handful of people making the first few buckets, SEI has since flourished with its Aerial Firefighting, Fire Ignition and Remote Site divisions. The company has grown to roughly 80 employees at the Delta facility, with an impressive network of approved service centers located in the U.S., South America, Europe, Australia and East Asia.
The Bambi Bucket has an estimated 95 percent market share in the aerial firefighting bucket market, which can in part be attributed to SEI’s next-level customer service.
The company has a 24-7 AOG (aircraft-on-ground) line to assist customers in need of products or support.
During the busy 2018 fire season in Sweden, SEI received a call on a Thursday from one of its 50 trained agents stating a customer needed a bucket immediately. “They placed the order and we managed to ship out of Delta [to Sweden] on that same Thursday. . . . Monday morning their local time, the agent drove his pickup truck and delivered the bucket to the customer,” said Fukamati.
“Mikael Sahlberg [the agent] was here visiting us for training after the fact and said that customer could not believe he got that bucket in such a short period of time.”
On-site maintenance training for customers is available upon request, and detailed operation and maintenance manuals for each of SEI’s products are available on the company’s website; this ensures customers get the most out their Bambi Buckets.
“BUILT TO ENDURE”
Committed to providing the best for its customers, SEI ensures every Bambi Bucket is “built to endure.” While the buckets use simple, lightweight technology and are fully collapsible, they are built with a top-of-the-line proprietary fabric made specifically for SEI. Over the years, the company has made adjustments to achieve the optimal thickness and composition of the material to make it strong, wear-resistant and flexible.
“I have met customers who say, ‘I have had this [bucket] for 10 years . . . it’s still working, and we are happy with it’,” said Fukamati.
Between the Bambi Bucket and Bambi MAX, there are 33 different bucket models, each one with a different weight and capacity for water, retardant or foam. Bucket capacities range from 72 US gallons (273 liters) to 2,590 US gallons (9,804 liters), providing options for all helicopters ranging from a Robinson R44 to a Boeing CH-47 Chinook.
EXPERTS IN INNOVATION
Using the latest available technologies, SEI is known for improving its products based on feedback from customers in the field.
“The Bambi Bucket has been on the market for [about] 35 years, and we are still making continuous improvements in that same product,” said Fukamati. “We listen to our customers, we follow up on the inputs they give us from the operation, and then we are continuously bringing those inputs into design adjustments and improvements to make [the bucket] even better.”
This tactic resulted in SEI creating an improved valve for the Bambi MAX bucket–the Bambi MAX valve 2.0. “The new valve incorporates important improvements to its operation,” explained Fukamati. “This is all related to the feedback that we received along the lifecycle of the product.”
The MAX bucket features an efficient multiple-drop valve that maximizes the bucket load throughout the fuel cycle. Pilots can choose to unload as many separate drops as they require. The valve 2.0 has upgraded motor protection that maintains valve control during stall conditions.
“With more than 8,000 hours and more than 25 wildfire seasons, I consider the Bambi MAX the best product for the fight against wildfires,” said Francisco Lucas, chief pilot at CoyotAir.
The next bucket model on the company’s horizon is the Bambi i-MAX–the latest evolution of the Bambi MAX. The i-MAX combines features of the Bambi MAX with a load-sensing head and Bambi Master Controller (BMC) technology. The sensing head measures the bucket load and converts it to water volume. The data is processed by the BMC, which automates functions such as load shedding, multiple drops and coverage control on a simple touchscreen application.
Beta flight-testing for the i-MAX was successfully performed in Spain during the summer of 2018; tests will continue in North America through 2019 with the goal of having the bucket ready for full production by 2020.
While SEI excels at innovation, the company takes pride in its ability to cover all points of the product journey: design, production, sales, training, maintenance and last, but certainly not least, customer service.
“Operators can’t take risks when it comes to their operational equipment,” said Fukamati. “They need reliability in both the product and customer support. Operators have trusted the Bambi Bucket team for decades, and they know they can count on us.”