Tough Times

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An interesting article posted by Composites World, giving us a good cross section of the state of the market we are all interested in. Tough times indeed:


 No other composites end-market suffered more during the recession than marine. Data from the National Marine Manufacturers Assn. (NMMA, Chicago, Ill.) show, for example, that for powerboat dealers, retail sales during the past decade peaked in 2001 at 311,700 units and then hovered around 300,000 units until 2007, when they dropped modestly to 267,300 units. In 2008, however, there was a more dramatic drop to 203,000 units, and in 2009 the floor fell out as new powerboat sales plunged to 153,550 units. In the span of just three years, shipments of new boats were reduced by almost half. During that period, the total retail value of new boats dropped from a decade high of $9.578 billion in 2006 to just $5.670 billion in 2009.
Since then, the marine market has shown tentative signs of a rebound. NMMA’s annual U.S.

Recreational Boat Registration Statistics Report for 2010 says that boat registrations were down from 2009 by only 2.2 percent, which, according to Jim Petru, director of industry statistics and research at NMMA, shows that boating remained a popular activity despite the recessionary times. There was evidence in 2011 of cautious optimism, especially in small boat production. And suggestions of recovery could be seen at the International Boatbuilding Exhibition and Conference (IBEX) in October 2011. The number of exhibitors was up 2.3 percent over 2010, with 60 new exhibitors, despite a 9 percent decrease in show visitors compared to 2010. Manufacturers interviewed at the IBEX show indicated that they are more willing to resume new model introductions going forward.
Boatbuilders who work with composites 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 not only in sailing yacht rigging systems (masts, shrouds, stays and spreaders) where it is now the standard, but also in mega-poweryacht structures, primarily in Europe, to decrease topside weight and increase boat stability in the water.

For the same reasons, some observers see growth potential for carbon in the 20-ft to 40-ft cruiser boat and military boat segments. Notable examples of carbon fiber construction in the past year include a new class of sailing yachts developed by composites engineering and manufacturing firm STRUCTeam Ltd. (Cowes, Isle of Wight, U.K.). The 100-ft/30m vessel, designed by naval architects Judel/Yrolijk & Co. (Bremerhaven, Germany) and currently under construction in Hythe, U.K., by Green Marine, is a new concept designed for luxury yachting with high-performance sailing characteristics. STRUCTeam reports that the yacht’s sandwich construction will feature advanced honeycomb core materials between faceskins reinforced by carbon fiber of varying moduli.
Elsewhere, Premier Composite Technologies (PCT, Dubai, U.A.E.) announced in 2011 the launch of the FARR 400, a production sailboat that is made entirely of carbon fiber/epoxy sandwich construction. PCT says the FARR 400 is one of the first carbon production sailboats in the world. The hull, deck and interior structure are fabricated with vacuum infusion technology to ensure high fiber-volume ratios and reduce weight variation.

In the superyacht sector, Delta Marine Industries (Seattle, Wash.) announced in mid-2011 the construction of a 66m/217-ft motor yacht for an American customer. Invader features an ice-strengthened steel hull and composite superstructure. With naval architecture, space planning and exterior styling by the Seattle-based Delta Design Group, the yacht’s composite superstructure allows for sculpted shapes and curves.

Carbon fiber/epoxy sandwich design was selected for the world’s largest solar-powered vessel, the Tûranor, designed by LOMOcean Design Ltd. (Auckland, New Zealand) and fabricated by Knierim Yachtbau GmbH (Kiel, Germany). The showpiece catamaran is a demonstration of the power of solar panels and is the brainchild of Immo Ströher, head of solar energy firm IMMOSOLAR GmbH (Langen, Germany) and Swiss environmental proponent Raphaël Domjan. Launched in September 2010, it is more than halfway through its global circumnavigation, carrying its message of environmentally sustainable ship propulsion. The lightweight composite vessel is powered solely by 600m2/6,456 ft2 of solar panels (when extra “wings” and a stern “flap” are deployed) that drive two electric motors and drive systems. (Read more about the Tûranor solar-powered yacht’s composite construction in “Designing the largest solar-powered yacht,” under “Editor’s Picks,” at top right).

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