No other composites end-market suffered more recessionary strife than boatbuilding. Yet in 2013, recovery is finally on the way. According to Lucintel’s Opportunity Assessment for Composites in the Global Boating Industry 2013-2018 market study, the world’s boatbuilders should see a CAGR of 4.5 percent in the next five years. The market should grow to $23.8 billion annually, by 2018. The market for composite materials used in the global boat industry is expected to reach $1.2 billion in 2018 with a CAGR of 4 percent for the next five years, growing from a level of $954 million in 2013. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA, Chicago, Ill.), in its most recent U.S. Recreational Boat Registration Statistics Report, noted that retail sales of new power and sailboats increased by only 0.8 percent to 214,405 total units. By mid-year in 2013, however, Info-Link Technologies (Miami, Fla.) reported that sales of powerboats over 15-ft had shown their third consecutive year-to-year gain, nearing 10 percent annual growth, based on new boat registrations. And in his “State of the U.S. Recreational Boating Industry” report at the IBEX 2013 show’ (Sept. 17), Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Assn. (NMMA, Washington, D.C.), gave encouraging 2012 statistics: Americans spent 3 billion hours on a boat, with 88 million people boating and 300 million boat trips, the highest level of participation since NMMA began keeping records. Although annual retail powerboat sales are still far below the prerecession 300,000 high-water mark, they are rising, approaching 160,000 this past year after their 2010 plunge (55 percent) to 142,000.
Composite boatbuilders continue to move to closed molding. Although the market is still dominated by glass fiber-reinforced polyesters and vinyl esters, boatbuilders also are employing more carbon fiber reinforcement, particularly in the superyacht sector. A notable case in point is the all-carbon composite Tûranor, designed by LOMOcean Design Ltd. (Auckland, New Zealand) and fabricated by Knierim Yachtbau GmbH (Kiel, Germany). The showpiece catamaran completed a world tour in 2012 and set a new record for a transatlantic crossing in 2013 (22 days and made 12 stopovers in major citiestrvelling over 20,000 km/12,430 miles — including more than 8,000 km/4,970 miles.
In 2013, one growing trend was prefabrication. Large suppliers to the industry increasingly offer digitally designed and cut, preformed and pre-infused stringers, bulkheads and, sometimes, complete interior structural grids, to composite boatbuilders. These prefab elements can be dropped into composite hulls and capped with decks structures, reducing the expense and difficulty of vessel construction for boatbuilders as they recover from recessionary losses — both financial and technical, the latter due to the layoff and loss of experienced employees — during the 80 percent drop in new boat sales that occurred from 2008 through 2012. Although the hull and deck “shoebox” gets lots of press, the complex structures that support them pose a disproportionately large share portion of the overall design, and manufacturing challenges, says Russ Elkin, senior technical service engineer for core materials supplier Baltek Inc., a division of 3A Composites (High Point, N.C.). Prefab structural grids had their genesis 13 years ago, says Mike Brennan, VP of one prefab pioneer, Mahogany Composites (Mays Landing, N.J.), when his company began precutting polyvinyl chloride (PVC) foam core to shape and kitting it for customers’ stringer production. Making the stringers, he says, was simply the next step.
The benefits of digitized preforming and prefabrication go beyond saving weight in the grid and reducing labor. A stringer system can be reengineered to better distribute stress, says Scott Lewit, president of Compsys (Suart, Fla.), so the boatbuilder can go with a thinner and, therefore, lighter hull structure. “You can pull glass out of the hull, which is where big cost and time savings can be achieved.”
Today, recovering boatbuilders — especially those in the 20 to 40 ft powerboat sector who are unable to afford the upfront investment in and negotiate the steep learning curves associated with computer-driven design and CNC-manufacturing tools — are turning to Baltek, Mahogany, Gurit UK (Isle of Weight, U.K.) Compsys and others for solutions like that pictured in the featured photos at left.
Notably, business picked up in marine realms outside boatbuilding. For example, two well-known marine composite manufacturers vied for U.S. Navy submarine berth contracts. Kenway Corp. (Augusta, Maine) reported on Jan. 14 that it has been awarded a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract to manufacture four sets of composite submarine berthing aids, called “camels,” for the U.S. Naval Submarine Base New London (Groton, Conn.). The composite camels are large semisubmerged structures used to create a protective barrier between submarines and piers while the vessels are berthed (see image below). When they are complete, each composite camel will measure 38 by 18 by 18 ft (11.6 by 5.5 by 5.5m) and will weigh more than 100,000 lb/45.4 metric tonnes. And the Navy inspected camels developed and built by Composite Advantage (CA, Dayton, Ohio reportedly giving the FRP “boat bumpers” perfect marks for performance. CA installed its first set of universal composite camels in 2010 at the Naval Submarine Base New London. Two more sets followed in 2011. CA and Whitman, Requardt & Associates (Baltimore, Md.) developed and fabricated a universal composite camel to replace its steel and timber products, which require annual maintenance and frequent replacement. CA manufactured the FRP camels to accommodate all classes of underwater craft up to and including the Navy’s largest ballistic missile submarines.
Elsewhere, pultruders began to make waves in the marine sheet piling market, displacing sheet pilings with constructions of glass-reinforced “pure” and hybrid polyurethanes that compete much more effectively with dominant steel than previous urethane and polyester formulations have, in terms of the key piling variable of stiffness, measured in modulus of elasticity (MOE). Steel, with an MOE of 21 million psi/147,790 MPa is clearly the stiffest, but the new PU-based pilings reportedly last much longer, install up to three times faster and also have closed the MOE gap with steel.
Why PU, and why now? Previously, research over 10 years was stymied by PU’s fast reactivity, but new formulations that permit delayed gel time and heat-activated cure have enabled pultruders to gain a processing window as wide as of 20 minutes, without sacrificing cure efficiency, once it’s triggered (read more about the newer polyurethane-based sheet pilings in “Pultruding polyurethane: Sheet pilings break boundaries,” under Editor’s Picks,” at top right). Further, today’s high-pressure, direct-injection systems enable fiber content of up to 80 percent by weight. As a result, Gulf Synthetics (Cummings, Ga.) PURloc composite sheet pilings, for example, now exhibit a respectable, and more importantly, very practical MOE of 6.9 million psi/47,573 MPa, making them eminently suitable for sea-wall and erosion-control applications up to 8 ft/2.4 m in exposed height and as high as 17 ft/5m using a single tie-back system.