As the primary composite materials supplier for the £48 million ($62.2 million) project, Norco will produce all the major components of the new vessels, including hull, deck, superstructure and multipurpose modules. They will build 11-, 13- and 15-meter boats.
Although Norco was not the primary designer for the Royal Navy SEA workboats, it did provide support for manufacture engineering, including material choices, process and production methods. Bottoms says most of the design specifications for the boat were no more stringent than for many other customers; Norco is accustomed to working for defense and aviation customers. The only exception was the weight requirement.
“Some of these boats have to be lifted by cranes onto other ships, so they can’t exceed the weight limits. That’s unusual for larger yachts,” Bottom explains. The design also had to take into consideration the MOD’s expectations for longevity and serviceability of the boats.
Norco is manufacturing the boats with an E-glass fiber reinforcement, a vinyl ester resin and a foam core sandwiched between the composite layers. For each section, the materials are hand laid into the mold and then infused as one piece. That infusion process will take between one and a half to two months, depending on the vessel size. Norco demolded its first 15-meter hull in May.
After some internal additions like fuel tanks, the hull and deck will be bonded together with a structural adhesive. “We will ship a complete assembled structure as one piece, ready to be fitted out with electronics and machinery,” Bottoms says.
As the boats are completed, tested and commissioned, they will be deployed from naval bases in the United Kingdom and also from the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, the Royal Navy’s survey and oceanographic ships, and its auxiliary ships.
Although Norco will produce the majority of the workboats for the MOD contract, AEUK also worked with an Irish boatbuilder, Seahaven Marine, on the manufacture of the largest vessel for the project. The 18-meter HMS Magpie, a hydrographic survey motor launch that replaced a 34-year-old vessel, was commissioned into the Royal Navy in June 2018.
The SEA workboats are a breakthrough for the Royal Navy. “I don’t believe that they’ve had composite boats to this level of construction and technology in terms of the infused structure with a closed cell foam core,” Bottoms says. “They’ve had smaller boats, but for this type of midsized workboat this is a step forward in technology, in weight savings and in performance.”