A consortium in the United Kingdom has developed a prototype of the world’s first composite cruise ship cabin, which reduces cabin weight by 50 percent.

“It has caused quite a storm,” says Nigel Spooner of Nigel A. Spooner & Associates, a consultant on the project for Trimline, a marine outfitter in Southampton, England. “Since we completed the project at the end of March, we’ve had six major ship owners come to us because we’re saving about a ton per cabin,” he says. “For a new build with 2,000 cabins, that’s a savings of 2,000 tons!”

cruise ship composite furniture

Furniture in the cruise ship cabin, including the nightstand and bed frame, are made from composites.

Tom Royle of Wizz Consultancy Ltd., project manager for the consortium, says that the project began in 2009, when Carnival Corporation invited representatives from the composites industry to tour the Queen Victoria, a luxury cruise ship operated by its Cunard cruise line. “We walked around pointing out various things that could be made from composites,” he recalls.

By 2012, discussions with Carnival began to focus on composite cabins because they are non-structural, making them a better fit with current International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations. After a promising feasibility study conducted by Gurit, Royle assembled a consortium that applied for and received a government grant in 2013 from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Technology Strategy Board (now known as “Innovate UK”) to develop a lightweight composite cabin. Consortium members included PE Composites as lead partner, Carnival, Gurit, Trimline, University of Southampton and Lloyd’s Register, a certification body with regulation expertise. The Maritime and Coast Guard Agency (MCA) had an advisory role regarding regulations.

The project’s first challenge was determining cabin specifications. Royle says it was a surprise that Carnival couldn’t provide them. “Carnival doesn’t buy cabins, it buys ships,” he explains. “We couldn’t go to the ship builder for specs because we were building a competing product, and Carnival couldn’t release them because of confidentiality.” So the team reverse engineered a standard steel cabin by conducting finite element analysis and “pushing and pulling” existing cabins to test how they moved against different types of loads.

The next challenge was finding materials that would meet IMO fire regulations. Present day cabins use steel sheets that are 0.65 to 0.8 millimeters thick with 20 to 25 millimeter mineral wool bonded to the rear face. Some have a second sheet of steel applied to the other face of the mineral wool to form a sandwich.