In the early days of composite boatbuilding before glass fibers, the pioneers experimented with natural reinforcement materials such as palm fronds and sisal. And once glass fibers were employed, builders such as Curtis Herberts, who founded Wizard Boats in Hollydale, California, added a final layer of bleached muslin for a smooth finish. The year was 1946.
Soon though, laminates were all glass. Cape Cod Shipbuilding in Wareham, Massachusetts, which acquired all the jigs and forms for Herreshoff Manufacturing’s small boats, converted to fiberglass in 1951 but employed only cloth fabrics. Chopped strand mat (CSM) and woven rovings (WR) followed and were the workhorse fabrics for the next several decades.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, unidirectional glass fiber reinforcements were introduced. In 1982, Dick Lazzara employed biaxial and triaxial reinforcements in a Gulfstar 60, a first, he believes (see PBB No. 169). What builders realized was that orienting fibers in the direction of a load increased strength. And with tools such as FEA (finite element analysis) now available to define those loads, engineering a laminate has become much more sophisticated.
Vectorply, a major producer of reinforcements for composites, offers approximately 350 different styles of fabrics, and cloud-based software—VectorLam Cirrus 2.0—to assist builders in selecting the best laminate for a given application. It was employed to assist Viking Yachts in evaluating the laminate and construction process of its 80‘ (24.4m) Convertible, launched in 2015. The VectorLam Cirrus software was part of what the company calls its Road to Optimization (R2O) process, in this case managed by Trevor Gundberg, Director of Composites Engineering, and Seth Holman, Northern Region Sales Manager. The initial objective was weight savings over the 48-oz/sq-yd and 64-oz/sq-yd (1,628-g/m2 and 2,170-g/m2) E-glass quads (quasi-isotropic, four-layer fabrics with plies at 0°, +45°, 90°, and –45° orientations) in Viking laminates at that time. In cooperation with 3A Composites, several series of tests of replacement reinforcements were undertaken, specifically the E-glass/carbon hybrids EC-QXM 3508 and EC-QXM 4408 weighing 35 oz/sq yd and 44 oz/sq yd (1,187 g/m2 and 1,492 g/m2), respectively, and Viking’s infusion resin, Ashland AME 6001 INF-35 with United Initiators’ Norox MCP-75. The tests measured tensile, compressive, and flexural properties in several orientations. Final reinforcements were selected (after tweaking based on test results), and Vectorply manufactured the custom fabrics, sending them to the Mahogany Company in Mays Landing, New Jersey, for kitting. The result is a lighter sportfisherman that is also faster than Viking’s 82‘ and 76‘ (25m and 23m) models.
Named by founder Maurice Aaron for one of the hardwoods it distributed from its warehouse, Mahogany started in 1945 and evolved from a materials distributor to a specialist in kitting reinforcements and cores. That shift occurred in 2007, and today about half its business is with Viking. As a member of the four-company team, it purchases reinforcements from Vectorply and core from 3A Composites. A 100,000-sq-ft (45,300m2) facility incorporates a warehouse, panel-making shop, and cutting shop with several 3-axis CNC routers and a 5-axis machine—seven cutters in total. Flattening software converts 3D shapes into 2D patterns for all fiberglass, carbon fiber, and core materials.
Lonni Rutt, Viking’s Vice President of Design and Engineering, said, “Working with the R2O process has enabled us to utilize the expertise from several areas in the material chain when optimizing our laminate design. We can work collectively with the reinforcement and core manufacturer engineers to specify the right material for the application. We develop each project around our focus to ‘build a better boat every day.’ Settling or compromising the design around only certain materials selections is not a limitation. If the material doesn’t exist, we discuss if and how they can make it.” Indeed, the subject reinforcements were custom made for the Viking 80.
Vectorply’s Gundberg further explains the concept: “R2O is a concise approach taken on by the Technical Services group to identify customer needs or issues and travel ‘down the road’ to a successful product enhancement. In concept, it is analogous to a Six Sigma project, where a need is defined, solution developed, employed, and then the improvement or change is measured to determine effectiveness. In the R2O process, these steps begin with an on-site customer audit, which defines the project subject; then materials and laminates are developed and tested. Once the solution is implemented, the effectiveness is measured and deemed successful or not. If not, then another trip down the road is required.”
These three vendors, along with resin supplier Ashland Chemical, offer extensive knowledge and combine their recommendations for each new Viking model. In the end, says Director of Communications Chris Landry, it’s Lonni Rutt who makes the call—armed with the best information available.