Europeans have been sailing the ocean wave for thousands of years. The days of seafaring conquerors and explorers might have gone with the Vikings and Captain Cook, but today more and more people are boating for fun.
Boat building techniques have also changed a lot over the years. And with the cost of a good yacht running into tens of thousands of pounds, it was with improved productivity in mind that a EUREKA team set out to revolutionise yacht building, cut production costs and help European industry increase its market share.
The FACTORY EPOXY-YACHT project brought together commercial boat companies with professional engineers and research institutes.
"It is very interesting to work with other countries. The partners had different goals and we were all helped by each others expertise."
Prof. Hans Manz
Fachhochschule Beider Basel
As Prof. Hans Manz of the Swiss-based engineering school Fachhochschule Beider Basel explains, multidisciplinary work was the key to the project's success. "It is very interesting to work with other countries. The partners had different goals and we were all helped by each others expertise."
The partners' main aim was to optimise the epoxy-wood materials used for building high quality yachts. Boat makers have long chosen wood due to its light weight. But thin wooden hulls are not strong enough to ride the waves. So manufacturers reinforce the fibres with an epoxy adhesive.
Epoxy-wood hulls were on the market before EPOXY-YACHT, but the EUREKA partners were the first to apply real scientific rigour to their design. "Our goal was to put the wood fibres in such a direction that the strength was as high as possible, and thereby to build a very light yacht," says Prof. Manz "the known calculations we know from fibre-enforced plastics technology and applied them to the wood material."
In the direction of its fibres wood is very strong, but perpendicular to the fibres it is weak. "If you put layers together with different angles you can make a material with high strength in more than one direction," explains Prof. Manz.
Having optimised the raw materials, other EPOXY-YACHT partners set about the automating of the manufacturing process through computer-controlled machines. "Another goal was to build the whole boat with repeatable quality. In the past, most parts were handmade made so the quality varied from one boat to another," says Prof. Manz.
The EUREKA project ended in 2000, and was such a success that main partner Woodconstruct is about to launch a follow-up commercial venture on its back. The techniques developed in EPOXY-YACHT promise to keep a new generation of European seafarers on top of the waves for many years to come.