Composites are not new to the marine industry. Although the marine industry holds less than 10% share in the composite materials market, it fairs well in terms of penetration of the material. The first boats produced in fibreglass and polyester laminating resin using the hand lay-up process date back to the 1970. Traditionally the marine industry heavily relied on Steel, Wood and Aluminium, however due to its many advantages over traditional materials, composites have been gaining popularity for the past few decades.
The Outboard boat, the Sterndrive, the Personal watercraft, Yachts and sailboats are the main segments which are extensively using composite materials. The Hull, deck and liner are the major components of a boat. Composites are now one of main raw materials for these components.
Composite materials not only offer excellent mechanical properties, but also enhance the aesthetics, enable innovation in terms of shape and design of the parts. This meets the demand of boat owners related to aesthetics, looks, and the life of the boat.
The market for composite materials is heavily governed by the global economy as well the economies which they offer as compared to the competing materials. With conditions ripe and favourable, it is expected that the marine industry will consume composite materials to the tune of $1.5 billion in 2024, charting an annual growth of over 5% during next five years.
The shift from aluminium to fibre glass has been significant. Recreational fibre glass boat sales are beating the traditional aluminium-based boats and are expected to register an increased growth (around 5%) in the next five years.
The sale of recreational boats was at its peak level of ~279,800 units in the USA when the tsunami of recession hit the global economy. It’s now in 2019 that the USA is likely to witness the sale of recreational boats getting restored to 2008 levels.
Economic growth and prosperity has always positively contributed to the growth of any industry. The marine composites market derives its demand from increasing boating activities in developed and emerging economies alike. The rise in disposable income, growing middle class population and increased spending on leisure activities is pushing the market growth. The recreational boating market has been gaining momentum in Europe and North America along with emerging economies like China.
The Market is mainly driven by the increase HNWI (High Net Worth Individuals) which has increased by 17 % from 2010 to 2017. Boating captures 35% of outdoor activity in USA which also can be one of the major attributes for growth in this market. Also, there has been a recovery in the boat sales since its steep decline in 2009 due to economic factors. The growth has also been driven by the demand for recreational fiberglass boats.
USA, having a major demand for boating and the presence of major boat producers, is expected to be the key demand driver in the coming years. The Asia-Pacific (especially China) and France in Europe (being the hub of luxury boats & yachts) are also expected to drive the demand for marine composites.
Marine composites have majorly penetrated in the small and leisure boats segments like the inboard, outboard, PWC (personal watercraft), Yacht’s and sail boats. Major American and European players like Groupe Beneteau, Brunswick Corporation, White River Marine Group, and Malibu Boats Inc. are increasingly using composites in boat manufacturing.
Major components of the boats like the hull, the deck, liner and large parts like consoles are made with fiberglass or carbon fiber composites as opposed to aluminium due to its various advantages. Glass fibres are mostly used in the form of fabrics (chopped strand and woven mat), which are moulded mainly with polyester and vinyl ester resins through the resin infusion and open mould processes. The mould is sprayed with gelcoat, which is followed by application of fibreglass cloth, after which resin is used to saturate or wet-out the fibre glass.
Amongst the different types of resins used for manufacturing marine composites, polyester has proved to be the most economical one due its low cost and easy availability apart from its good water resistance. Glass fibre has substantially penetrated the marine composites market, due its superior mechanical performance, lower cost, design requirements and compatibility with all kinds of resins. Carbon fibres dominate the market for yachts, racer boats and sailboats due to its high tensile strength.
The use of composites has made it possible to achieve a notable reduction in weight and a 40% increase in strength, leading to lower operational costs, reduced greenhouse emissions and greater fuel efficiency. Low maintenance and longer durability, resistance to corrosion and heat, superior thermal stability is driving the growth of marine composites.
Additionally, if composites are compared to competing materials, the life-time cost of a composite part is substantially lower due to lower maintenance, as well as lower installation and assembly costs due to corrosion resistance and durability.
Despite having several benefits, composites have many drawbacks. They are comparatively expensive (just double the cost) than the traditional materials like steel, wood and aluminium. There is also a lack of standardisation unlike metals. High maintenance cost, poor reparability and recyclability is also one of the major drawbacks. Hence, they have yet not found a substantial share in the Commercial Marine Industry.
Glass fibre and polyester resin win over other composite materials in the marine industry, whereas carbon fibre and epoxy resin are used in small quantities. The industry has many regional and global players eyeing increased market share, leading to consolidation amongst the raw material manufactures.
Top five major players (Ashland Global Specialty Chemicals Inc., Owens Corning, Polynt-Reichhold Group, China Jushi Co. Ltd., and AOC Aliancys) have captured half the share of the market. Other prominent players in the market include Taishan Fiberglass Inc., Interplastic Corporation, Huntsman Corporation, Scott Bader, Hexion Inc, Olin, Diab, 3A Composites, and Gurit.
Major Chinese companies, such as Jushi and Taishan, are giving fierce competition to the global players by exporting materials at a low cost.
The marine composites have a derived demand with its demand mainly coming from recreational boating activities, which in turn is affected by political and economic factors. According to the Global Growth Report of May 2019, by the World Bank, the global growth outlook has been downgraded by 0.3% to 2.6% for 2019 due to subdued investments in the emerging markets. The growth is expected to gradually rise to 2.8% in 2021. This can be seen as a silver lining which can help maintain the momentum of continued surge in recreational activities of USA and other major economies. However, the ongoing US-China trade wars and imposition of antidumping duties on China may alter the industry dynamics.