John McKnight has worked for the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) for 16 years, where he’s responsible for tracking environment, health, and safety regulations and regulatory compliance issues. Prior to joining NMMA, he was environmental engineer at Witco Chemical Corporation.
What are the various marine manufacturing segments?
We break the industry down into three separate segments: engines, vessels and accessories. There are four different types of engines used depending on the type of vessel. Accessories include anchors, tubs and showers, which can be cultured marble or fiberglass products. The vessel, or boat segment, is where composites really fit in. The vessels could be pontoons, cruisers (a joy ride, comfortable vessel), speed boats (built for things like water skiing to 100 mph races) and yachts.
What trends do you notice between carbon and fiberglass composites?
Right now, I see the majority of the industry continuing to use fiberglass over carbon composites because it offers high quality and you can get it for lower cost. However, when you look at racing boats, people will look at carbon because weight is the biggest factor. But when looking at the general boat manufacturing industry that sells to families or fishermen, the most economical solution is still fiberglass.
Is there one segment of the marine industry that uses composites more?
Well, pontoons are usually made from aluminum, and you’ll find a mix among small fishing boats, but personal watercrafts such as cruisers and yachts are primarily fiberglass. You may find two or three manufacturers who use aluminum, but by and large, composites are the material of choice.
Where do you see the most potential for composites?
From a business point of view, we are seeing consolidation, but it’s not a strategy on composites. One thing companies can do when they slow down, which our industry has done, is go back and focus on improving the production line. Some manufacturers are looking into adapting robotics into the process for things like gel coating to allow better control. We’ve also seen manufacturers dabble into various epoxies to get away from unsaturated polyester resins or styrene, but the cost is higher than the return. Thus, we’re all following the future of styrene carefully. An inability to use styrene will change the game quickly.
What advice would you give to a composites manufacturer trying to break into the marine industry?