The markets: Boatbuilding and marine (2019)

NMMA’s top trends for 2018 include more accessible and versatile recreational watercraft for families, an increase in saltwater and freshwater fishing boat sales, and increased sales for cruisers. Electric propulsion and 3D-printed hulls and molds are also gaining momentum.

The National Marine Manufacturers Assn. (NMMA, Chicago, IL, US) reported in 2018 that unit sales of new powerboats increased 5% in 2017, reaching 262,000, the highest level in a decade for the U.S. recreational boating industry. NMMA predicts 5-6% growth again by the end of 2018 and noted that boat manufacturers are expanding capacity to meet this demand — building new plants and increasing production. NMMA’s top trends for 2018 include:

  • Versatile family-fun boats: More accessible and versatile watercraft are being built to attract new and younger boaters. Sales were projected to increase 5-8% for ski and wake boats, pontoon boats and personal watercraft.
  • Fishing boats: These continue to be a major driver of the industry’s sustained momentum. Saltwater and freshwater fishing boat sales were projected to increase 2-4%.
  • Cruisers: Sales of boats 22-32 ft long continue trending upward, with projected gains of 9-10%.

Other trends include larger production boats powered by outboard engines (vs. inboard diesel engines) and increasing use of carbon fiber, epoxy resin and 3D printing. According to the Jan 2018 Trade Only Today article “Big-outboard market roars,” the number of outboard-powered boats more than 40 ft long, each with at least three or four engines clamped to the transom, is increasing. Examples include Scout Boats’ (Summerville, SC, US) 530 LXF (53-ft), HCB Yachts’ (Vonore, TN, US) 53-ft Sueños and 65-ft Estrella center consoles, while Midnight Express (Miami, FL, US) has unveiled its 60-ft Pied-A-Mer. Outboards are chosen for their light weight and reduced requirement for systems and space inside the hull. Just like in cars, space in boats is at a premium.

The increasing size and number of outboards per boat is driving the need for reduced weight in composite hulls and decks, but without sacrificing performance. The latter means not only long-term durability in the water but higher speeds and resistance to wave-slamming loads, as well as heat resistance beneath dark paint colors, which continue to be popular. Carbon fiber and epoxy provide a particularly effective combination, and, in fact, are used on Scout’s 530 LXF and 420 LXF models, made with resin infusion. Carbon fiber is also used in HCB’s Estrella. Hinckley Yachts (Southwest Harbor, ME, US), renowned luxury production builder and longtime veteran of resin infusion, has begun switching all of its sailing and power models to epoxy, while its new 40-ft Sport Boat models and Dasher fully electric motor yacht both feature CF/epoxy construction. Note, however, that these brands represent the high end of the market. Boats priced in the middle of the market typically use glass fiber and vinyl ester resin, though resin infusion has become much more common. Polyester resin is still used for the lowest-priced boats. Carbon fiber is creeping into medium-priced boats, used to cap hull stringers and in accessories like hard tops where owners are willing to pay for higher-priced options.

As Hinckley’s Dasher demonstrates, electric propulsion is another trend that is beginning to take hold. Electric-drive boats have been heralded as “the future” for some time, and were actually the norm for powerboats before the 1930s. However, with battery and hybrid power technologies dropping in cost thanks to the auto industry’s continued development, sailboats and smaller, cruising power boats are likely candidates for getting rid of the tanks, fumes and environmental impact of fossil fuels. The trend is expected to gain more momentum as reliable cruising range and speed are established. Most docks already have electrical power for recharging.

A project reiterating this point is the all-composite hydrofoiling watercraft developed by SeaBubbles (Paris, France) with support from composites fabricator Décision SA (Ecublens, Switzerland) and Sicomin Epoxy Systems (Chateauneuf les Martigues, France). This eco-conscious taxi transport solution for the world’s urban waterways is based on a hydrofoil design that allows the watercraft to glide silently above the water when it exceeds 12 kph. A clean-charging electric drive system converts solar, wind and water power so the vessel does not generate any CO2 emissions. Already installed on the River Seine in Paris, the technology’s makers hope to spread SeaBubbles to more than 50 waterway-rich cities worldwide.

Another trend is the growing use of 3D printing in marine. Already, high-end yachts are using 3D-printed parts. For example, Hinckley’s Dasher electric features a stylish console supported by six parts that nest and interlock, 3D printed in partnership with the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center (Orono, ME, US). According to Hinckley’s director of engineering Scott Bryant, the tight-tolerance pieces would have been hard to produce with traditional molded fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) due to resin shrinkage.

Meanwhile, the world’s first 3D printed boat is a 6.5m-long and 3m-wide Mini 650 sailing yacht, designed by Livrea Yachts (Palermo, Italy) and built by sister company Ocore in partnership with Autodesk (San Rafael, CA, US), Lehvoss Group (Hamburg, Germany) and Kuka Robotics (Augsburg, Germany). Ocore is using fused deposition modeling (FDM), but instead of buying filament, it has mounted an extrusion head on a 2.5m-tall Kuka robot. The head melts compounded 25% chopped carbon fiber-reinforced polyamide (PA, or nylon) pellets and deposits 0.6-mm-thick layers to form the hull, rudders and other components. The patented method claims a new print technique, using Bezier surfaces for the math driving the printed geometry, instead of sliced mesh and polygonal approximations. The hull is printed in sections called isogrids, which resemble an aerospace skin-stringer design, with a CFRP corrugation between two CFRP skins. The isogrids will then be joined with structural adhesive and sheathed with a carbon skin of 300 g/m2 biaxial and 150 g/m2 unidirectional reinforcements applied using vacuum-assisted resin infusion. An autoclave will be used to join smaller components. The boat’s target weight is 930 kg, which exceeds that of a typical, conventionally-built 750-kg foiling Mini 650, but Livrea principal Daniele Cevola explains this as a first step, with the goal of minimizing variables. He says future boats will be lighter, but the advantages of the process are already being demonstrated, including a hull built in just days, enabling the team to print different hulls, analyze the speed forecast and identify the optimal shape. Construction of the Livrea/Ocore Mini 650 will be completed in time to race 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in the 2019 Mini Transat.

While printing boat structures is just at its beginning, the move toward 3D-printed molds is continuing to gain momentum. Projects completed include a boat hull pattern by Marine Concepts (Cape Coral, FL, US) and a 10.4m-long hull construction mold by Xplora Yachts (Kirkland, WA, US). The Marine Concepts pattern was a collaborative proof-of-concept project with Thermwood Corp. (Dale, IN, US) and custom compounder Techmer PM (Clinton, TN, US). The pattern was 3D printed slightly oversized, over roughly 30 hours, and subsequently trimmed to final net size and shape, using Thermwood’s trademarked Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) system. The printed material was Techmer’s trademarked Electra l ABS LT1 3DP. The final tool was printed in six sections, four major center sections with walls approximately 38 mm thick and a solid printed transom and bow. Sections were pinned and bonded together using a Lord Corp. (Cary, NC, US) plural-component urethane adhesive. The assembled pattern was then machined as a single piece on the same Thermwood system in about 50 hours. The entire print, assembly and trim process reportedly required fewer than 10 working days. The pattern was subsequently used to pull a fully functional production hull mold made with conventional fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) molding methods.

The Xplora Yachts hull construction mold was 3D-printed start to finish, in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN, US) using its Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine. Although three mold sections could be printed simultaneously in 12 hours, all 12 sections of the mold were printed over a five-day period, using 2,495 kg of 20% chopped carbon fiber/ABS Electrafil J-1200 from Techmer PM at $11/kg for a total material cost of $27,500. The sections were printed with an extra 3.8 mm of material which was later machined to a smooth surface. Rods were assembled cross- and length-wise to assemble the sections with Ashland’s (Dublin, OH, US) Pliogrip Plastic Repair 10 epoxy applied to the seams. Designed for ABS, the epoxy adhesive’s 60-min cure time allowed alignment adjustments during assembly. Assembly was completed in three hours and the adhesive cured within 24 hours. A Faro (Lake Mary, FL, US) laser-tracking system was used to compare the mold surface to original CAD data and showed an average deviation of < 1.27 mm. After being sanded and coated with tooling gelcoat and mold release, the mold was used to resin infuse a prototype E-glass and Kevlar foam-cored hull.

Related Content

First all-carbon yacht a winner

Vacuum infusion with customized fabrics enables demanding yacht build