Bret Chilcott is president of First Source Components of Neodesha, Kan., a designer and builder of custom composite components through a network of independent laminators. Before starting his own company, he was with Cobalt Boats for 13 years in sales and marketing as well as lean manufacturing and new product development and engineering.

Bret Chilcott—president, First Source Composites

Bret Chilcott—president, First Source Composites

Why are we seeing composites used more often in marine applications?

Because of their durability, there is still a place for some wood in some boats, but as far as our company goes, it’s all composites. Fiberglass has replaced most wood in marine applications, especially those applications that are below the water line or will be exposed directly to the water. For example, the transom ― the wide, flat area at the back of the boat which usually bears the name—was the first area of a boat to rot because of water exposure. Most quality boats today use a combination of composites and construction foam whereas years ago, the transom was typically plywood.

Are you using any new or modified processes?

Some of our laminators excel in closed cavity bag molding (CCBM), which had been difficult for other laminators, including boat manufacturers. CCBM is typically an improvement over open molding because it gives the back side of the part a good feel versus open molding, which leaves one side of the part rough. For some applications where the consumer does not come in contact with the back side of the part, this is Okay. However, for parts where consumers come in contact with the back side of the part, they expect a smooth surface. CCBM also prevents the resin from pooling in low areas of parts that have a deep draw, like a spinner for a wind turbine or a fender for a motorcycle, ultimately producing a higher quality part.

How have customer expectations changed in the last few years?

Customer expectations have risen for higher quality parts. Rough back-sided parts like those made in an open mold are no longer acceptable. This is especially true where the customer sees the back side of the part like anchor lids and other doors. Some manufacturers may believe it’s not important to a customer, but in my experience, when a customer opens a hatch they’d be disappointed to see a rough surface. Today, a smooth finish shows quality.

What do you see as challenges for composites in the marine market?