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West Bay SonShip Yachts of Delta, British Columbia has recently transitioned its composite production from traditional, open mold, spray-up processes to the increasingly popular vacuum infusion process or VIP.
That transition has been supported by Reichhold with their Hydrex low-styrene vinyl ester resin.
West Bay SonShip‘s line of yachts has earned the company a worldwide reputation for excellence in marine construction. The brand is renowned for exceptional design and unparalleled craftsmanship in the 16 to 20 yachts West Bay turns out each year.
Ranging from 58’ to 107’, West Bay SonShip’s yachts have been composite structures since the early 1980s. Like most boat builders, West Bay had been using isophthalic resins as it produced its hulls and decks through open molding. However, a live demonstration of the vacuum infusion process during a trade show caught the eye of West Bay’s Fiberglass Manager Mike Kluftinger.
“We’re constantly searching for better ways to do things, ”Kluftinger explains. “We saw infusion as a clean way to make better parts while also getting labor and material savings,” he continues.
And while Kluftinger recognized the potential cost savings and quality improvements inherent in the vacuum infusion process, it wasn’t an immediate jump for West Bay SonShip.
Kluftinger says the company did lots of research on the process itself, and more research to find just the right materials for West Bay’s needs. “It took a long time, with two years of R&D and a lot of panels made before we infused our first hull,” he says.
“We started on small parts and worked our way up before taking infusion into production,” Kluftinger recalls. “We grew from panels to stringers and bulkheads and gradually bigger parts, and then infused our first hull in 2003.”
Once the personnel at West Bay are completely comfortable with the process, they’ll also begin infusing decks with Reichhold’s resin.
From a quality standpoint, Kluftinger says there are considerable advantages to resin infusion over open molding. “We see a weight savings, as much as 30 %, which gives us both lighter and stronger parts, with a higher glass-to-resin ratio,” he says. “This lighter weight makes our boats both faster and more fuel efficient. If the weight savings translates to just one more knot of speed, that’s a selling point for us.”
Kluftinger says West Bay’s laminators were sceptical of the infusion process at first, thinking that it wouldn’t work, would take longer, and would phase out jobs. Today, “they love it, and they want to infuse everything!” he says. “With infusion, they don’t have to wear respirators or rubber gloves. They can wear street clothes and dust masks,” Kluftinger explains. “The only fumes experienced are when the resin is mixed.”
West Bay tested a number of resins before selecting Reichhold’s Hydrex 100-HF. “I did my homework,” Kluftinger relates. “We infused with some other resins, but we’ve gotten much better results since switching over to Hydrex 100-HF,” he says. “Because our yachts are gel coated, the profile has to look good, and there’s much less print-through with this vinyl ester resin.”
Cost savings have been critical to the success of vacuum infusion at West Bay as well. Once fully implemented, Kluftinger estimates that the vacuum infusion process will increase labor efficiencies by 30%.
Currently, West Bay SonShip employs 350 people on two shifts. As the company increases its capacity with a new 35,100 square foot lamination facility, plans are to train the number of infusion personnel from the current 10 to as many as 50 people
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