In late 2008, Structural Composites based in Melbourne, Fla. submitted a proposal to the Navy Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) to solve project number N091-049, Advanced Combatant Craft for Increased Affordability and Mission Performance. The purpose of the project was to reduce the lifecycle cost and improve shock mitigation protection on small combatant crafts in difficult environments.
Structural Composites was one of three teams accepted in Phase I, each was awarded $75,000. The company teamed with Zodiac Boats, an inflatable and rigid-hull boat company based in Stephensville, Md., to help with the rigid boat design. The team completed Phase I in December 2009 and was the only team to pass into Phase II, where they were awarded $750,000. In Phase II of the project, Structural Composites will produce one low-risk, low-cost boat approximately 21-feet long with the option to build another more advanced boat using higher quality fibers to improve shock mitigation, but also to further lightweight the boat design.
Elements of the Prisma Single Skin Technology (SST) were modeled off a similar single skin system that was used by Maverick Boats, Fort Pierce, Fla., and MasterCraft Boat Company, Venore, Tenn., approximately five years ago to lightweight recreational boats, which offered a 10 percent weight reduction. “But the problem with the previous single skin system was that it wasted a lot of material,” says Lewit. “They were buying core kits, which are expensive due to core material cost and the volume lost during knitting.” The Prism SST Navy boats are sandwich-free designs where the hull, deck, and even the transom is a single skin construction.
The laminates are manufactured using resin infusion on Prisma preforms created at Structural Composite’s manufacturing sister company CompSys, also in Melbourne, Fla. The company can manufacture one mile of beams in four hours, this reduces the labor cost and ensures ample supply.
Lewit believes the composite skin technology can impact the future of the marine industry by reducing weight, and labor cost using preforms for both open mold and vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) infusion molding. The thin, single-skin membrane uses significantly less material and could bring the cost of boats down for the marine industry. “In 2006 we were able to make a $32,000 boat cost $25,000. But that was five years ago; imagine what we could do with this new technology,” says Lewit.
Lewit recently received a Congressional Medal of Merit for developing this new technology in partnership with the U.S. Navy. His company is focused on bringing the military technology back to the marine industry. He believes that applying Prisma SST technology on recreational boats could significantly reduce the weight and price, which could be an important step for the industry. “If you start building flatter bottom boats and suspend the cockpit, you can change the hydrodynamics of the boat to the point where you can put a smaller engine on it,” says Lewit. “That starts a spiral towards fuel-efficiency and overall cost-savings. Put in a smaller engine, smaller fuel tank, pull an axel of the trailer, drop horsepower, you’re looking at potentially 40-50 percent savings in the price of the boat, making them affordable again.”