Swell performers

Fasteners used in powerboats and luxury yachts need to look good and withstand heavy seas, so companies are adapting technologies used in motorsport. Julia Pierce reports.

The marine environment places great demands on adhesives and fasteners due to the corrosive properties of the sea, so producing an adequate system is a challenge.

Not only this, but the forces generated by conditions such as rough seas mean that the demands on such solutions is comparable to those faced in the motorsport industry.

In fact, the high end of the marine market has much in common with Formula One, in that performance and appearance are of equal importance. Although the present economic instability looks as if it may dampen demand for luxury yachts this year, orders are still at a near-record high.

So with this rise in demand for super yachts and pleasure cruisers, fastening systems must now be able to both look good and be easily removable to allow for upgrades and maintenance of onboard equipment ranging from vital navigation kit to built-in sound systems.

Since opening a dedicated marine division three years ago, Worcester company Southco has moved to build a range of fasteners designed specifically for this environment.

It recently launched a line of robust stainless steel hinges incorporating attractive styling as well as easy installation and durability in a harsh environment. The N6 Covered Hinge Series consists of easy-to-mount devices that minimise installation time and costs in areas ranging from small ventilation hatches to larger storage compartment and access hatches.

The top-mounting screw-in design enables the complete installation process to take place from above the deck, while self-alignment makes it easy to position the highly-polished stainless steel covers to create a finished installation with no visible mounting hardware.

The covers are secured with double-sided tape designed specifically for strong adhesion in a marine environment. If required, the adhesive is easily removable with a heat gun.

Meanwhile, other companies have completely re-thought the ‘bonding’ process.

‘The most important product we have in the marine market is the Poppit — a revolutionary type of fastener,’ said Brian Giddings, development director at BigHead Bonding Fasteners.

The Poppit allows internal and external panels and cladding on vessels such as super yachts and cruisers to be mounted simply and quickly where instant de-mount is also required. ‘Before the Poppit, people would use heavy-duty stick-on tape,’ said Giddings. ‘But a major problem with this is that it detached in heavy seas — and that’s a real issue, especially if you have ceilings involved.’

BigHead’s adhesive-based system has the advantage of being self-aligning and can be used to fix items in areas such as walls, ceilings, hatches and engine covers. These can be snapped on and off for maintenance or cleaning, and then replaced with accuracy within a matter of seconds.

The system works using a stainless steel ball that clicks firmly into a female socket, moulded in high-impact polycarbonate. The moulded jaws grip the ball to form a perfect ball and socket joint. The precision engineering of the joint prevents squeaks and rattles, and the male and female fasteners are normally supplied as a pair. ‘There is no need to pre-drill walls and ceilings,’ said Giddings. ‘The system is very time-efficient.’

The Poppit is designed to be used alongside the firm’s Big Bond adhesive product range, which can be applied to almost any surface. A recent addition to the line is a version of the glue that has a curing time of just 90 seconds. It is said to be nearly as strong as epoxy resin.

To fix an item, support is required for between five to eight minutes, with a final cure time of 45 minutes. For de-mounting, a firm pull separates the joints. When re-attached, exact alignment is achieved automatically by popping the panel back into position. As a whole, the fastening solution has so far attracted much attention within its target market.

According to some of those working to provide adhesives and fasteners to the boat building industry, there is certainly room for innovations such as these, as many traditional fixing systems are starting to look a little dated.

‘We have one product line for the marine sector at the moment but we are bringing in others and are speaking to people to sound out their requirements,’ said Graham Leo, sales manager at Speciality Fasteners, which provides fasteners to the marine sports industry and customers such as major power boat racers.

‘This is definitely a market sector we are looking into,’ he said. ‘Many parts being used by the industry are quite simplistic and old fashioned.’

The company produces a panel latch range for marine use called the AeroCatch. The latest version, the AeroCatch 2, was trialled throughout last year in the world of offshore powerboat racing.

The solution provides an alternative to conventional slide-pin fasteners, which is suitable for marine and motorsport use — the original AeroCatch was developed for the motorsport market and is used in touring cars, Le Mans prototypes, sports and rally cars. The company is also planning to launch the AeroCatch 3 Tension and Shear this spring. On this, the tension part of the latch pulls panels together at the same time as engaging a shear-pin element.

Another company transferring expertise from motorsport to the leisure boat industry is Huntsman Advanced Materials of Cambridge, whose Araldite adhesives are currently in use in the construction of the Silvestris 23ft, five litre, V8 aluminium speedboat.

Developed by Silvestris Haute Motive Concepts — a Dutch company whose designer co-founded Spyker cars and was responsible for the development of the acclaimed Spyker two-seater aluminium sports car — the 23ft sports cabriolet is one of the first speedboats built using a unique, aluminium space frame bonded with Araldite 2015 to an aluminium hull.

The company’s Araldite range is also used to create high-performance, durable seals between the inside of liquefied natural gas vessels and the internal insulation box that helps keep the gas stable at temperatures as low as -165ºC.

Meanwhile, the maritime adhesives market is facing pressure from both regulators and customers to find alternatives to the current bonding substances on offer. As with other industries, the maritime manufacturing sector is under pressure to move away from the use of potentially pollution-causing chemicals to utilising greener alternatives.

Regulations such as the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH) propositions require the phasing out of certain substances that were once staples to the industry, meaning that boat builders are now considering some interesting alternatives.

‘What we are really focusing on is the move from using toxic solvents to water-based adhesives,’ said Peter Furby, marine account manager at 3M. ‘We are working with boat manufacturers to see the points at which we can move to using systems such as double sided tapes rather than solvent-based glues.’

As can be seen, the range of new products available shows that companies are working hard to meet the needs of a demanding industry. And the UK is seeking innovative fastening and adhesive systems that can meet the requirements of both a challenging environment and demanding customers alike.