It’s hot this Friday morning when my partner and I park the car in the parking lot of this mega company. An almost suffocating heat that hits the region of Nice for over a month.
Yet I feel wonderful about discovering behind the scenes of Aqua Lung, a brand initiated by a famous commander with a red cap, world giant maker of diving equipment grouping under the same name products of Aqua Lung, spirotechnique, US DIVERS, Sea Quest, Technisub and Pelagic Pressure System.
Invited, as part of my blog by Céline Juignet, Marina Aimissi of the communication department to meet them directly at the headquarters of Aqua Lung in Carros, it is through the explanations of Manuel Cabrere, product manager and referent for the regulators, that we discover this incredible universe.
Putting divers in such an environment is a bit like Christmas before time and I do not know where to look at.
Manuel guides us through all departments of the company and answers all my questions: what is does this machine, how many pieces of equipent are made every day, how does the product quality control process work, how is the staff hired and trained, … With little detail and anecdotes, Manuel is proving to be a playful guide who generously explains different aspects of the job.
Report of a visit as surprising as unusual
Administrative and innovation services
We start the Aqua Lung visit by the administrative parts of the company. It’s here that everything is managed: orders, customer service but also marketing strategies, innovations (we see them working on pc designing the products of tomorrow 😉), decision-making, … all in a calm and relaxed atmosphere.
We also find, displayed in showcases, collector’s items that would please many of us.
In this research-oriented unit, the diver I am is surprised to learn that Aqua Lung is not only the diving equipment that I find at my favorite dealer but is also a manufacturer of diving equipment (including rebreather) for military use.
If I have to admit that I do not understand all the technical explanations that are provided to me about the operation of the machines around us, I remain impressed by the one testing the regulators for research, quality control, prototype tests, quality tests and expertises (in the event of an accident): a large box that acts as a compression chamber for the regulators showing us, at this precise moment, the inspiration and expiration curve of a regulator under test
Aqua-Lung being solicited by the justice when it is necessary to check a regulator, Manuel will tell me that for more than 25 years that he works for the company, none of the expertises concluded with a defective design of the regulator but always to negligence and / or human fault (hence the importance of, for example, maintaining your equipment properly 😉)
The third service we are going through is the control service: here, they make sure that all parts that will be used to manufacture the diving equipment are compliant. For this, samples are taken and tested. The parts will either be validated or recognized as derogating from certain parts of the specifications (and therefore analyzed in greater depth to decide “their fate”) or marked non-compliant and excluded from the manufacturing circuit.
It is impressive to know that with the serial number of a regulator, we can find where each piece came from (most from APEKS for regulators)
An area is also reserved for the testing of military equipment including recyclers with a special “anti dust” room which looks mysterious but I’m not sure to have fully grasped the ins and outs.
Manuel explains that dealers and other actors in the diving world are regularly invited to visit the company to see the work that is done upstream around the design, the realization and manufacturing of diving equipment.
The parts assembly unit was certainly the one that impressed and interested me the most, even though we arrived during the lunch break and could not see the teams in action.
There is no line work in this part of the company, each employee is responsible for all the regulators that they assemble: from the selection of parts to drying through assembly and control, everything is done by the same person.
Once again, I am amazed by the rigor that prevails in the company: traceability is total throughout the manufacturing process and ALL regulators are tested (not just a sample) before being sent to the drying enclosure and then to the packaging.
In addition to systematic checks, once a month, a regulator is tested in the “research” service that I told you earlier.
A little apart, a closed room contains the test area of the valves that will be inserted in the regulators: crucial parts, the valves are individually tested by hand and I feel a lot of respect and gratitude for the employees who perform this hard task that will guarantee our future safety in diving.
When everything works fine, the company produces up to a maximum of 800 regulators … a day!
In the corridors, we wander, admiring here and there the photos of the history of this huge company, recognizing on some shots the famous commander Cousteau and Manu gives us an anecdote:
Do you know why Aqua Lung is called Aqua Lung?
In 1945, Cousteau and Gagnan created the first on demand dive regulator, the CG45 (C for Cousteau, G for Gagnan and 45 for the year of manufacturing).
At the time, Commander Cousteau was talking about the GC45 saying: “Automatic compressed air lung for diving. ”
He did not use the word regulator because for him, a regulator was intended for city gas (nothing very noble) and the name seemed to him pejorative for his CG45.
English speaking people then translated the commander’s expression by creating the common name aqualung.
Aqua for water and lung for the lungs
The parent company of the time (Air Liquide), reclaimed the common name that had just created the English speaking people to make a new name that would be the name of the diving branch of the holding company (Air Liquide): Aqua Lung in 2 words.
During the last part of the visit, we press a little because we managed to lose ourselves in our wonder and, while we are expected for lunch, we find that the clock was ticking. Also, we quickly cross the raw material storage area (metal bars and other pieces of neoprene waiting for the moment to give life to products of our future underwater explorations)
The visit ends with a brief passage through the crumbling warehouse of diving equipment : a real Ali Baba cavern
But it’s already necessary to finish this moment out of time, the discovery of this disconcerting place, these behind the scenes of manufacture of products which allows me to devote myself to the activity of diving that I like so much.
During lunch shared with Céline, Marina and Manu, we talk for a long time about our favorite activity and dream of a world of diving even more open and accessible to all.
After a sunset dive with Marina and other members of the Aqua Lung team, I leave the beautiful city of Nice with my head full of wonderful memories.
And above all … do not forget to be happy 🤗
This article is totally independent of the company Aqua Lung. I received no compensation in exchange for its writing but a lot of happiness and pleasure to visit and meet Céline, Marina and Manu. I write about what I like. Do not hesitate to contact me to make me discover your super projects in the world of diving.