Setting up production

Up until now, I’ve relied on a boat builder to construct my canoes. Quite honestly I simply did not have the room or facilities to do it myself, plus I’ve learnt so much watching skilled and experienced professionals do the job. This has worked out well whilst I was in full time employment and the demand for boats was slow but steady.

I’ve always fitted the boats out myself, but this involved many hours on my front drive, much to the consternation of the neighbours. It also loses its attraction during the winter months and dark hours.

Demand is increasing, plus I’m bringing out a new model for which I have ideas on how I want to construct it, so quite frankly I have run out of excuses not to setup in-house production.

So I’ve taken out a lease on a unit on a business park and setup a workshop to build the boats myself. It costs £5,500 for a year and I have a three year lease, so I have to hope that people keep wanting my boats.

The new home of DarkSide canoes

This is a big step and I’ve spent a considerable sum getting all the tools and equipment I need plus the materials for the first few boats. I’ve collected my molds and am ready to roll.

The unit has electricity from solar panels on the roof and/or from the grid. The gas is connected to the meter but that’s as far as it goes although the unit has a new (unused) combi boiler and two radiators.

Actually, the bloke before me painted the walls white and installed a whole load of plug sockets.

Key criteria, does the Duet fit?

All the mod-cons.

Instead of using Polyester resin, I plan to use Epoxy and a vacuum bag to compress the layers and force out excess resin.

My plan is to go to resin infusion especially for the C1, and I went on a training course with Dark Matter Composites to learn how to do it. The five day course cost me £1,300 but it was so worth it. They don’t simply show the perfect way to do it because there isn’t one. There are so many options for the type and sequence of composite fabrics. Each one will work, but they all have different structural properties, weights, costs and complexities. Each course group was allocated a laminate combination by pulling numbers from a hat, and we weren’t told how to do it, just the theory. It was fascinating to see how each group approached the task of infusing a model boat, but we learnt so much more by seeing how poor decisions affected the process and the result.

We also used core materials.

The biggest frustration I found was that there is no knowledge base. Loads of people have experimented with resin infusion and a lot of costly mistakes have been made before an acceptable process is defined. This is not necessarily the best way because there maybe something you haven’t tried yet, but it is just too time consuming and expensive to try everything. Why isn’t all this learning captured, documented and made available? The simple reason is that companies do not want to share their intellectual property with competitors, especially due to the investment in developing the techniques. A shame really.

First off we setup test panels. This is where the defined laminate stack is used to determine how far the resin will infuse before it gels. We marked progress every 20 seconds checking both the upside, through the distribution media, and the lower side through the laminate, which was slower. This can be controlled with a pressure dam to allow the underside to catch up before the resin flow reaches the end. (Don’t I sound knowledgeable!)

Test panels

The results of this determines how we approach larger parts and where we position the resin inflows and the vacuum outflows.

Resin inflows and vacuum outflows.

Using the test results, we marked out the part with the resin flow predictions.

This how the infusion SHOULD progress.

It isn’t quite as simple as that because resin infusion finds the path of least resistance and you can get resin flows where you least expect them.

The course covered a lot of other types of composite manufacture including pre-preg, resin film infusion, and even light resin transfer moulding, where we made a male and female mold and injected the resin between them.

So I’m now setup on my own and it control, and luckily I have lots of mates locally who have recently retired and looking for something interesting to do.

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