Robotics & Modern
two gelcoat-finished sides. Sea Ray has
recently begun using RTM to build some
of its parts, but not yet hulls or decks.
Perhaps it is here, in innovative new
ways that improve the actual step-by-step building of the boats, that modern
technology has introduced one of its most
Enter the robots!
Sea Ray builds its smaller boats at its
Tellico campus in Tennessee. “We have
robots that do many different things,”
said Matt Guilford, Sea Ray’s VP of marketing. At the initial layup stage, robots
spray gelcoat into the tooling. They’re fast
and accurate, spraying the same designed
thickness every time.
With pinpoint accuracy, robots in the
cutting booth work with tolerances of
1/8,000ths of an inch. More traditional
At the assembly phase, technicians work to
accurate designs provided on digital monitors on the shop floor and tablets at work
stations. All upholstery is cut and created
from the CAD designs.
INNOVATION AT BENETEAU
Groupe Beneteau has been building boats for 30 years in America and 130 years in France, and last year generated $1.06 billion in sales. Since 2010, Beneteau’s production and
sales have shifted dramatically from sailboats to powerboats.
“In America,” said Beneteau USA president Laurent Fabre, “we
only started selling powerboats five years ago, and already it’s 50
percent of our production.” In August 2014, Beneteau acquired
Michigan-based Rec Boat Holdings (Four Winns, Glastron, Wellcraft,
Scarab). The company has built Beneteau-brand trawlers at its
South Carolina plant and plans to increase powerboat production
there. Meanwhile, the company has invested heavily in new technology in both its products and its processes. It emerged from the
2008–09 financial crisis with the innovative Sense line of sailboats,
and the Dock & Go joystick control of the engines.
The company’s approach to hull form illustrates how its in-house
designers worked with partners outside the company to create its
patented Air Step underbody – particularly engineer Rémi Laval-
Jeantet, whose fluid-dynamics résumé includes windmills, ballistic
missiles, and silent submarine propellers, and with a partner school
of naval architecture in Nantes, France, which provides tank testing.
In the Air Step design, chines are inverted from their traditional
orientations to direct air under the boat, down the centerline, while
keeping the wet surfaces along the side of the boat, which includes
two skegs. The result? “When you make a turn,” said Fabre, “the
boat cannot roll out. You have fine control. The air gives strong lift
to the boat.” The advantages are lower fuel consumption, faster
acceleration, and higher top speed.
Almost simultaneously, Volvo brought out its innovative IPS propulsion leg. “From the beginning,” said Fabre, “we worked closely
with Volvo to make sure our Air Step worked with their IPS.” Their
initial concerns were whether air under the boat would introduce
turbulence and negate the advantages of the IPS system; and
whether the mix of air and water would accelerate corrosion on the
IPS leg. To prove the system, Beneteau built a complete prototype
of its GT 46 and tested it with Volvo for 400 hours over six months.
“The two systems are fully compatible,” said Fabre. See our magazine’s cover this month for an artist’s rendition of how the Air Step
works with the boat’s propulsion system to add lift. — T.M.