The process of manufacturing a boat involves many steps including design, fabrication, assembly, testing, and so on. Design, in addition to being the first step, is among the most important. A pivotal aspect of the design process is deciding which material to use for the boat’s hull. In this blog we will discuss the four most commonly used materials for shipbuilding: steel, aluminum, fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP), and polyethylene.
Steel is among the most popular materials used for boats and has been the material of choice for the last century. It is popular for many reasons, such as its high strength, durability, resistance to abrasion, and relatively low cost. Despite this, as new composite materials are being developed, providing better and cheaper alternatives of equal strength and lesser weight, its popularity is beginning to wane. Nevertheless, steel is still widely used, especially in the production of large ships. In terms of sustainability, steel has a very precise production process that creates little to no constructional waste. Furthermore, it is fully recyclable at the end of its service life and is therefore a very sustainable option for boats.
Aluminum is a material preferred by many boat manufacturers due to its lightweight nature, especially when compared to steel. In addition to being more stable and seaworthy, aluminum boats can travel faster due to their reduced weight. This also provides better fuel mileage. Other benefits of aluminum are its easy workability, resistance to chemicals and corrosion, and imperviousness to magnetism, all of which make it a great option. The drawbacks of aluminum are that it is expensive, soft, and more susceptible to abrasion. However, aluminum is recyclable, making is a sustainable option.
Fiber-Reinforced Plastic (FRP)
FRP has become a very popular material over the past decades and remains one of the best options on the market. It is a single structure that is lightweight, strong, watertight, durable, and resistant to corrosion. It was initially developed for military use, but has since been adopted by all levels of maritime application. Despite FRP being relatively cheap, the process of manufacturing boats from it requires highly skilled labor, making it less economically viable than other options. However, FRP has a much longer life than other materials, providing a good return on investment. Furthermore, FRP is fully recyclable and has no adverse effects on the marine ecosystem, making it a very sustainable product.
Finally, polyethylene is a very versatile material ideal for boat building across all marine applications. This includes surveillance, amateur and professional fishing, security, and others. The defining characteristics of polyethylene are its high strength-to-density ratio, advanced chemical & impact resistance, low maintenance, and greater buoyancy, all of which make it ideal for boat construction. Polyethylene is similar to FRP in that it is molded rather than fabricated like aluminum or steel. This allows for more complex designs. However, polyethylene is not without its disadvantages. For one, it is not as structurally stiff as aluminum or steel, which limits the number of boats it can be made with. Second, polyethylene tends to become brittle over time and cannot withstand high temperatures without deforming. However, polyethylene is recyclable and therefore a sustainable choice.
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