TAMPA, Fla. — The marine industry bombarded me with innovation at the 2014 International Boatbuilders’ Exhibition & Conference and that innovation came from several newcomers to the show.
“We had nearly 100 new companies participate in IBEX and we attribute this to boatbuilding continuing to rebound as the economy improves; there are many new companies willing to invest in the marine industry,” IBEX show director Anne Dunbar said this morning. “We also had an increase in attendees, which is a reflection that boatbuilders are building again and they are looking for new and innovative ways to build better boats.”
Material ConneXion was one of those newbies. It helps companies leverage material innovation to create better products.
“This is our first time to IBEX and we are really excited,” said Sarah Hoit, a material scientist for ThinkLab, a consultant company for Material ConneXion, which showcased an interactive materials library with 50 of the more than 7,500 advanced, sustainable materials in the company’s library. “The marine industry always has fascinating innovations. We are looking for cross-industry inspiration. We want to share innovations from other industries with the boating industry.”
At IBEX, Hoit showed me some of the materials from other fields that could be used in the marine industry. They included a honeycomb composite material that uses folding pockets through its thickness for strength, a transparent window material that harvests UV energy and a washable cushioning material used as lightweight bedding in camping and the military.
“It provides strength and cushioning at the same time,” Hoit said of the bedding material. “It can be made in any density and thickness. You can wash it out. It has drainage [holes]. And it can never puncture or rupture.”
She also gave me an example of how the marine industry has been a source of inspiration in other fields. Hoit said Nike studied the sailing industry’s use of carbon fiber in specific areas of sails that bring “lines of strength” to the material, but keep weight down.
Nike used some of that methodology to design reinforcing lines in the arch and lace hooks of its Nike Flywire athletic shoes, said Hoit, who introduced 10 innovative materials during two presentations a day at IBEX.
Engineered Marine Coatings (EMC2) came to IBEX to launch its Quantum marine coatings product, a topcoat and urethane “that we have been applying to about 90 boats in the Charleston, S.C., area,” said company president Jon Boswell. “We are doing a full rollout of the product and IBEX seemed to be the place to make that happen.”
EMC2 offers a “high-solids, low-VOC, easy-to-apply topcoat,” Boswell said.
EMC2, based in Isle of Palms, S.C., has been promoting its product to boatyards and refit yards. “We do have a few OEM possibilities, too, but we are just going to every boatyard that will listen to us and telling our story,” he said.
I spoke to Boswell on the first day of the show. “We have had huge interest at the show,” he said as he pulled out 15 business cards that he had collected in just a few hours. “It has really exceeded our expectations. We have actually acquired a few jobs — some hull refinishing jobs and some floor refinishing.”
Only a few feet from EMC2’s display, Vince Denino, of Prototyping Solutions, was fielding potential business leads. His company is a major distributor for Stratasys 3-D printers. This was its first-ever marine show.
One of those 3-D printers was up and running at Denino’s display. When I stopped by, the machine was whirring away, creating an impeller part for an engine.
“We take a 3-D CAD [computer-aided design] model and send it to a machine like this and it will make the part for you out of plastic,” Denino said, pointing to the $21,000 machine. “Something like this can pay for itself quickly. You can make several iterations of a design overnight and have those in your hand the next day; by the time you go to production you have 99 percent confidence that your design is going to be accurate.”
Denino said the uses of 3-D printing in the marine industry are endless.
“The marine industry, I think, has been slow to take up 3-D printing and I think there is a ton of room for growth because they are constantly creating new products and new designs,” said Denino, who said Prototyping Solutions has about a half-dozen marine clients so far. “This technology would be a great complement to that.”