What’s the market like for building iceboats?
I can think of three companies that actually build and sell iceboats worldwide. I build my own boats and that’s a standard practice in the iceboat industry. Most people make them at home using wood to make and replace broken parts. Iceboats only make up a small fraction of company sales, but that market is how my company got its roots. We won’t give up on iceboats.
Due to the economy, the past two years haven’t been the best. Business was almost non-existent but it’s starting to show a pulse again. For instance, we’re fully booked up with orders right now, which we haven’t been in a year and a half. Material pricing is starting to creep up but it’s been decent for awhile. However, the price for high-tensile carbon is off the chart and our prices reflect that.
How has the industry changed since you’ve been involved?
The use of composites in the marine industry has matured considerably from an engineering point of view. The material properties have improved and although educating the marine industry has been a steep climb, you can tell that more people are knowledgeable about the material. Composites are now understood by most builders, whereas before it was like I was speaking another language to people. They didn’t know what was going on and that made it difficult to sell composite products. It’s still difficult because customers don’t know the difference between a great product and a decent product. It’s hard to compete cost-wise against a low-performance product, especially since there’s so much more processing and engineering behind our products.
What do you think would help your industry?
In the marine industry, once a project gets commissioned it’s on the fast track. The customers want to get it done as fast as possible. But sometimes the lag time for materials can be way out there. We needed to have supplies yesterday. It makes it difficult to get good quality prepegs in short time especially if it’s a special fiber, which is becoming more of a material trend in the marine industry. I don’t know if it’s just the marine industry dealing with this problem. Often we’re in our own little business world somewhat separate from other branches in the composites industry. However, suppliers are starting to inventory material and that’s been one of the biggest helps we’ve had.