Surviving Economic Crisis in Yacht Building

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Yacht building industry is struggling with economic crisis all over the world. Every related business is trying cost cutting ass a happy medium to avert decrease of profit and keep adequate financial results.

The main question arising is how to do that? Decreasing workers salary is out of question as in effect company could lose most skilful employees, which would probably lead to worsening product quality, losing clients and market share. Moreover the biggest competition being far east industry European minimal wage laws would not make it possible to get salaries low enough to compete with them.

A lot of western yards try to outsource production to less developed countries. In the beginning difference in salaries and worse labor environment allow to produce cheaper thus generating more profit. Unfortunately with time product quality is dropping significantly or workshops demand more money, as life expectancies start equaling between both countries. What is even more dangerous company can loose clients who wish to cut off the middleman and buy directly from the yard.

So how to survive? Technology seems to be the only reasonable option. As cutting salaries is not the best idea, replacing workers with machines seems to work pretty well. The quality is as high as we planned, tolerances can be smaller allowing to decrease material wastage, they are never tired or sick and the speed of production is increased. As always there are some drawbacks. Better educated thus more expensive staff will be required, however in lower quantity. Initial capital is also much higher so the investment risk rises. And there must be production going on – without constant sales upkeep can become a serious problem.

Time for some practical solutions. Lets start with design/naval architecture/engineering office.

First of all a good project management program is essential. It will allow to plan and execute complicated projects while still having control over amount of work already done and keeping the deadlines. It will cut cost by allowing just in time production management, estimating labor-consumption and checking if workers speed is adequate. Easy workers accounting is a positive side effect. There is a lot of free applications ( such as Navalplan) as well as paid ones available on the internet – only open mind of the board is required.

Second thing a good CAD system is required uniform throughout the company. And good does not necessary mean expensive. A lot of very expensive software is bought because some years ago there was no real alternative. But this changed now. You can have a reasonable 2D/3D software for about 1000EUR/license with many available plugins ( for example Rhinoceros 3D) including specialized marine plugins and workshop support software. Some of them are of course paid, some are free. Why CAD system is so important? Because on the shop floor nobody should have to think. Documentation should show every information that is needed, everything should be in its place and within tolerance. 3D design helps to avoid many mistakes and errors and in fact speed the design process making it cheaper as well. The necessary thing is design process automation. Automatic generation of 2D drawing from 3D model is essential. Many programs support makros or even scripting ( for example IronPython scripting in Rhino) providing a tool to make easy, repetitive and time consuming processes take several seconds requiring only several input values (for example linesplan creating script for Rhinoceros can save multiple working hours executing in less than a minute). Creating models and details database while from first look appearing as a waste of time saves significant amounts of work an time. Automation has another advantage – less errors.

Third thing calculations software. If company is making designs from scratch it is essential. It saves hundreds of manhours and nobody is going to deny that. Hydrostatics, stability, strength, stress analysis, EU certification all require a lot of time that can be saved if proper software is used. Standalone or plugin does not matter as long as it gives reliable results.

There is a lot of places on the shop floor where money can be saved.

First of all is keeping tolerances and guarding consistency with design. Changes on this stage are rather costly and require wide check with design drawings and corrections. The best practice is to make everything well in the design stage and then just execute the plan. Giving information about changes and feedback to design office if absolutely essential. A lot of time and cash can be lost if changes are made only on the shop floor, mainly because further design details will need to be corrected or prohibit the intended change to be carried out thus requiring reversing of the works already done.

Tolerances. Very often builders forget about tolerances, especially in early building stages when keeping them is most important. If there are big inadequacies made in beginning nothing will fit in later. Big structure dimensions tolerances cause using CNC machines obsolete. There is no sens to make a 0.1mm tolerated ply cut when someone will have to fit it with angle grinder. So tolerances should be kept low from the beginning.

Using machines better then mentioned before angle grinder is also very important. First of all quality. There is no way superior quality can be achieved using hand-held tools. This is 21st century CNC milling machines are nothing fancy. If company cannot afford one yet the job should be outsourced. A lot of carpentry workshops have one so finding a supplier shouldn’t be a problem. It won’t be much more expensive, and it will allow to keep the tolerances low and give a good finish effect. If you are working with steel – laser cut or waterjet is an answer. It would be grate to make molds with CNC machines but it gets quit costly for now.

For composite boats vacuum bagging is minimum, infusion is right. Better quality, higher strength, lower weight, lower time required, lower emissions, better working environment and good marketing possibilities makes it worth. Significant amount of time and funds must be put in to it to make it work.

Measurement techniques were always a problem in yachtbuildng due to small enclosed spaces and a lot of curvatures. Regular tape measure wont make the job as not many edges are straight. Total station can be quite effective in early stages of construction, however later it will become obsolete. Photogrametry is promising in conjunction with right CAD system.

To sum up there is a lot of techniques to keep your production costs low on every stage, so if company is open minded and willing to invest in new technology it can survive even with low labor cost far east competition.