The marine market is making a splash with cutting-edge designs, materials and technologies.

Sometimes new boat designs create excitement in the marine market. Other times, advances in manufacturing technologies take center stage. But in the past year, a combination of the two – innovative designs made possible with inventive fabrication techniques – has made news.

A CFRP Catamaran

Gold Coast Yachts recently teamed with Formax, a supplier of multiaxial carbon fiber reinforcements, to develop a 53-foot, high-performance racer/cruiser made entirely of CFRP. The B53 catamaran’s main hull incorporates custom carbon fiber fabrics to achieve the aggressive weight reduction and engineering specifications required by Paul Bieker of Bieker Boats, who designed the catamaran.

One of the toughest decisions for Gold Coast Yachts was selecting the best manufacturing technique. The company was concerned that it would not meet the boat’s specifications through wet bagging. It was equally concerned that carbon fabrics could not be vacuum infused successfully. “The smoothness and smaller fiber diameter of carbon fiber filament causes the fabric to compress, making permeability difficult during the wetting process,” says Philip Steggall, director of business development in North America for Formax. “But prepregs are expensive, along with tooling, production equipment and labor costs.”

Vacuum infusion has gained a reputation for providing a cost-effective production method while maintaining a high level of performance. “If you have the proper fabrics and controls in place for temperature and resin viscosity, you can infuse a laminate of any size and thickness with minimum risk,” says Steggall. “But it is relatively new in the marine industry, and people are still looking at it warily.”

Gold Coast Yachts conducted a three-month testing program comparing wet bagging and vacuum infusion techniques. The testing demonstrated superior properties of the vacuum-infused panels, including a 15 percent increase in compressive strength.

Formax then created +45°/-45° biaxial carbon fiber fabrics of 400 g/m2 and 300 g/m2 and a 0°/90° biaxial of 300 g/m2 that were stitched rather than woven or hot-melt bonded. “Weaving and hot-melt bonding are not infusion-friendly,” says Steggall. A light and open random monofilament polyamide (nylon) web called MicroWeb was stitched between the plies of carbon fabric. The combination of stitching and the MicroWeb layer provided a path for air to escape and resin to flow between the layers across the laminate.