An advanced surface finish promises dramatic improvements for large fiber-reinforced-plastic products, including boat hulls and bathroom surfaces.
Genmar Holdings Inc. has invested nearly $150 million over eight years in developing phase two of its Virtual-Engineered-Composites technology, Irwin Jacobs said during a June 24 news conference at NPE 2003.
Genmar can manufacture a boat with VEC technology in less than one hour vs. the eight to 12 hours required for production of a gel-coat surfaced boat using the open-mold process, said Jacobs, chairman of the Minneapolis-based builder of recreational boats.
The new VEC Shield finish appeared on Genmar-made Four Winns-brand 180 Horizon family boats in NPE exhibits of GE Plastics and Spartech Corp. Each boat measures 18 feet 4 inches by 7 feet 9 inches.
Also in the GE booth, Drew Industries Inc.'s Kinro Composites unit displayed a one-piece tub-and-shower unit featuring VEC technology.
Co-developers Genmar, Spartech and GE Plastics perceive the shiny new VEC Shield finishes as significantly better than gel-coated fiberglass in resisting scratches, stains and ultraviolet rays without being brittle or wavy.
Genmar believes the technology can be used with any fiberglass product. There's no paint, no gel coat and no styrene emissions, Jacobs noted.
Genmar subsidiary VEC Technology Inc. of Greenville, Pa., has received the Environmental Protection Agency's 2002 clean-air excellence award for air technology and six other technology, environmental and innovation honors from government and from magazines.
A soon-to-be-constructed Four Winns plant in Cadillac, Mich., will begin producing boats with the virtually emissions-free VEC Shield in late 2003. The facility will have several VEC manufacturing cells. Commercial introduction is planned on 2004 models of the Four Winns 180 Horizon.
The new technology goes a step beyond VEC's standard technology, which reduces styrene emissions during lamination by more than 90 percent vs. gel-coat processing.
The standard VEC process already has been used to make 17,000 boats since 1999, Jacobs said, and none of the users has reported a structural failure. The technology includes constant computer monitoring of more than 500 variables and is used now in making select models of four of Genmar's 17 boat lines.
Development work on phase two began in 2000 behind closed doors and proved to be a ``difficult thing to tackle,'' Jacobs said. The results included several new techniques, materials and processes.
He noted that the boating industry has used the same manufacturing processes for large fiberglass boats for 75 years.
Genmar intends over the next two years to make the transition to VEC Shield across its line of fiberglass models up to 24 feet long. Genmar also makes longer fiberglass models and other boats of aluminum, polyethylene and wood.
Genmar employs 6,000 at 12 manufacturing centers. Its 2002 model-year sales were $1.1 billion. Genmar claims to be the world's largest builder of recreational boats.
The VEC Shield process involves a thermoplastic shell using materials such as Spartech's WeatherPro G and another sheet manufactured with Genmar's closed-mold VEC technology.
A Spartech sheet and roll-stock plant in Cape Girardeau, Mo., makes the WeatherPro G alloy plastic sheet using GE's Geloy acrylic styrene acrylonitrile and Cycolac ABS resins. Spartech is based in Clayton, Mo. GE Plastics is headquartered in Pittsfield, Mass.
Genmar commissioned a study on market potential for the technology. The study concluded that the potential annual market is $15 billion - with needs outside the boating world even greater than those inside the industry, Jacobs said.
VEC Technology is negotiating rights that would let Kinro use VEC Shield in a Waxahachie, Texas, plant, according to Sam Hughes, president of VEC Technology.
In March, White Plains, N.Y.-based Drew formed Kinro Composites under its Better Bath Components division to expand the use of VEC Shield finishes to bath products for manufactured housing.
Drew subsidiaries Kinro Inc. and Lippert Components Inc. make components for manufactured homes and recreational vehicles. Better Bath reports within Kinro Inc.
Gene Kirila established Pyramid Operating Systems in 1993, and the company became VEC Technology in 1995. Genmar first invested in VEC Technology in 1999 and bought the rest of the company in April 2000.
The company began making hulls and other composite parts under pressure in a two-part mold in 1999 and upgraded when it opened VEC Technology's 95,000-square-foot plant in Little Falls, Minn., in August 2000.
Other parts have included Polaris Industries Inc. personal-watercraft components, Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd. earth-compactor hoods and prototype Deere & Co. combine door panels.