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Better Boat Building Starts With Pre-Planning and Precision Metrology

Published: Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 10:10

In greater Downeast Maine, boat builder Hodgdon Yachts plans for the construction of the 100-ft racing yacht called “New3” (also known as “New Cubed”). Set to be constructed and finished toward the end of the year, the vessel will be shipped to Australia for its first race. As Tim Hacket, the project manager and coordinator at Hodgdon Yachts explained, “We spent a lot of time planning the construction of each part to ensure everything is built in time for its final installation into the hull or onto the deck.”

Hacket’s job is to ensure that the composite yacht is constructed through the best methods and at the highest levels of quality, all while remaining as lightweight as possible. “Project lead Brandon Linton and I have used East Coast Metrology (ECM) Global Measurement Solutions for two similar projects in the past with great results,” Hacket says. ECM was responsible for taking precise measurements during multiple phases of the hull plug construction.

There were three big obstacles with this shipbuilding project: The time frame, skilled labor, and supplies. The time frame for ship construction is short, as suppliers need to deliver boat-building materials in a timely manner, and boat builders with composite construction experience (honeycomb with carbon pre-impregnated with epoxy laminate construction) are required. Considering these fabrication hurdles, apparent in just the initial stages of the planning, Hodgdon Yachts must work in significant lead times with suppliers and then coordinate drawings and deliveries that specify the needed materials. In the case of the New Cubed honeycomb core, there is a lead time of up to 20 weeks for manufacturing and delivery. Therefore, Hacket and his team rely on advance coordination and project management techniques to juggle each task.

Because ECM metrologists were able to come on-site to capture the hull plug shape and measure the distance between the end points and masthead, the management of these challenges became easier, with less materials needed. East Coast Metrology technicians often work on-site without much customer direction and within tight timeframes. Fitting custom measurements into a limited window of opportunity is ECM’s specialty. ECM got to work at Hodgdon Yachts' location at East Boothbay, Maine, using a laser tracker to gather highly accurate hull shape data at the boat yard within a very confined area.

During the preassembly stage, ECM technicians first inspected the individual hull plug pieces to ensure that all pieces were within tolerance. The surface of the hull plug was scanned, collecting real-time 3D dimensional data, to define whether or not the shape of the hull harmonized with the hull design intent. A technician checked for flexing in the bow, verifying key dimensions relative to the drawing. Measurement tolerances for racing yachts allow for little if any building errors, so any deviations from the design intent were corrected or at least communicated to the customer. The laser tracker was positioned around and on the male mold to check angular distance and to take advantage of the hull’s unique shape.

“With this project and the ones in the past, ECM has worked with us to deliver well-constructed, lightweight boats [built] to a high standard, on time, and within budget,” says Hacket. “This is always a challenge, as most parts are custom-made.

According to Hacket, the Hodgdon Yacht team advises to “First, plan well; second, choose a good team of people around you with years of building experience; and third, use good metrologists. A boat has such a complex shape and metrology is the only real way to check the surface accurately and quickly.” Following this sequence highlights ECM’s reliable measurement services.

“Using ECM we can check the CNC milled parts to ensure that they are as close to the designed surface as possible. The scanning of the hull plug saves many days’ worth of work in only a few hours, and the same goes for when the hull mold is set up and finally when we have to mark out the entire structure of the boat,” says Hacket. Proper measurements ensure the hull will not crack during the race, which acts as peace of mind for the racing team.

“This job normally would take three to four people a week, and with ECM the same is achieved in a day,” Hacket says. ECM is an excellent choice for measuring advanced composites and high-performance racing and cruising boats.

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ECM Global Measurement Solutions

ECM Global Measurement Solutions provides dimensional measurement, alignment, and engineering services to a wide range of industries including: automotive, aerospace, manufacturing, research, power generation, shipbuilding, architecture, and consumer products. ECM works with you on a project basis with an on-site presence or as a virtual extension of your own in-house team.