Fibre Reinforced Plastic is emerging as a popular material for boat building over the past few years. What started as a material for commercial boat building is now being used for larger vessels as well. But how exactly is fibre-reinforced plastic being used for boat building? What does the future hold for FRP? That’s what we explore in this article.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What is Fibre Reinforced Plastic?
Fibre Reinforced Plastic, commonly known as FRP, is an alternative for conventional boat building materials. These Fibre Reinforced Plastics are an acceptable and affordable alternative for steel and other metals and can be used even in reinforced concrete structures such as pipers, columns, bridges and beams.
FRP is a better option than a few metals because of its versatility, ability to resist corrosion, its durability and a high strength to weight ratio. FRP composites have been used for the past few decades in minor quantities while building naval ships and equipment.
Use of Fibre Reinforced Plastic in the marine sector is currently made to build boats, canoes, lifeboats, utility vessels. It is mostly used to build recreational boats due to its durability and cost efficiency. In addition, FRP Boats are used for passenger transport, for commercial purpose and have numerous other applications as well.
In India, marine applications of FRP contribute to 2% of the total FRP industry market share.
Types of FRP Boats
Glass Fibre Reinforced Polymers
Known as Glass Fibre Reinforced Polymers, these FRPs use glass in their composites. There are further classifications of glass FRP – E-Glass, AR glass, and S-Glass, etc. E-Glass is cost-efficient, has good heat resistance, and also provides good electrical insulation. The S-Glass fibres, on the other hand, have a significantly higher tensile strength than the E-Glass. It also provides a high resistance to heat. The AR-Glass fibres are the costliest amongst all and are resistant to the alkaline properties found in concrete.
Basalt Fibre Reinforced Polymers
Basalt Fibre Reinforced Polymer sits in the middle of E-Glass and S-Glass fibres. They have a higher tensile strength than E-Glass but lower than S-Glass. The resistance capacity of the BFRP to the alkaline properties in concrete is much better than both E-Glass and F-Glass.
Aramid Fibre Reinforced Polymer
Aromatic Polyamide Fibre, also known as Aramid Fibre has a high elastic modulus, considerably higher strength, and 40% lower density than glass fibres. They cost more than either glass or basalt fibres, so they are rarely seen in common boat construction purposes.
Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymers
Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymers have high tensile strength and elasticity. Their elastic modulus is similar to that of steel. They are used most commonly in the aerospace industry because CFRP have the highest strength to weight ratio amongst all FRPs.
Of these types, glass-reinforced plastic is most commonly used for boat building.
Advantages of FRP Boats
Fibre Reinforced Plastic boats offer considerable advantages over their steel and iron counterparts, some of which are listed below:
The biggest advantage of FRP boats is probably the fact that they require a lot less maintenance than their metal counterparts. It also costs a lot lesser to design and manufacture FRP boats since the materials to be used do not require as much work as the metal boats. Since the FRP composites are versatile and durable, they do not need as much constant maintenance and work done on them like metals.
FRP boats are made with refined polymers and not metals. Hence, after being in contact with water for a long time, FRP boats have an almost negligible corrosion rate as compared to that of metal boats. Metals like steel and iron, though significantly stronger, corrode easily which leads to a continuous maintenance cycle of the boat. Since FRP boats are durable, they have the ability to resist corrosion for a long time.
FRP boats are not made with heavy metals, but are designed and manufactured with top grade fibres which weigh substantially lesser than the metal boats. In metal boats, heavy sheets have to be layered on top of each other to ensure a packed surface. Whereas, in FRP boats, a single layer of fibre made in a mould is enough. Also, the traditional machinery in metal boats is quite heavy. Replacing the traditional heavy machines with composite options will also reduce the overall weight of the boat.
FRP boats are more environment-friendly than metal boats, on account of their low fuel consumption. Unlike metal boats, they also do not generate harmful metallic flakes, which are toxic for marine wildlife. In addition, FRP boats are completely recyclable and do not harm the marine ecosystem.
A Faster Option
Speed is of great importance in today’s fast-paced world and FRP Boats give us exactly that. Since these boats are lightweight, their velocity on water increases by far, thus increasing their efficiency and productivity as compared to metal boats.
In the marine industry, there is a requirement of high-performance vessels. FRP boats can fulfil that demand with their high durability, strong structural integrity and speed. The composites are not as expensive as metals; hence it is efficient to use FRP Boats. Even for huge vessels and ships, though the entire ship can not be made of polymer composite, big marine structures such as masts of ships, primary hull structures and secondary hull structures are built with the help of Fibre Reinforced Plastic.
The versatility of FRP materials has impressed naval engineers and a majority of them are adopting composite alternatives as opposed to the traditional metal ones. In the near future, with the increasing value of speed and time, FRP boats will prove to be the most efficient modes of naval services.
FRP Boat Manufacturing and Repair Services
FRP boat manufacturers in India offer extensive boat building, repair, maintenance, and dry-docking services for FRP boats. SHM Shipcare is a leading provider of FRP boat repair services, ranging from design and mould making, FRP lamination and build-up, deck fitting and upholstery, anti-fouling and painting, to gelcoat repair and rebuffing, furniture repairs and carpentry work, electrical and mechanical repairs, and preventive maintenance inspections.
In addition, they also conduct laboratory testing of FRP laminate panels and provide monsoon dry-docking and storage services.
SHM Shipcare has contributed extensively towards the improvement and expansion of FRP boat manufacturing in India. Their boats have been commissioned by the Indian navy and BSF, both illustrious clients.
The Future of FRP Boats
The uses of FRP Boats outweigh their disadvantages. The concept of using only one metal to make an entire ship has become absolutely outdated. FRPs are a mixture of fibres and polymers. Using the amalgamation of two highly durable substances in construction of boats has produced far more impressive results exceeding the previous ones.
In addition, the development of these FRP boats does not require as much cost as is needed to build metal boats. The use of composite materials can lead to cost reduction, since heavy machinery will be updated with the composite one. For big ships and cargos, polymer parts can be made with the help of a mould and assembled later within reasonable rates. Building hull structures for ships with the help of composites will also prove to be cost-effective. All in all, it would not be amiss to say that the future of boat building will be dominated by FRP boats.
The Last Word
With the rapid growth in the use of FRP Boats, the FRP Boat Building sector has become global. Indian boat manufacturers have started their own design and development plans ensuring even more efficiency. There are numerous manufacturers offering FRP boat building and repair services, such as SHM Shipcare. Since the development of composites is done in the country itself, the quality of the polymers is unparalleled. The versatility, durability, and low fuel consumption of FRP boats makes them a natural choice for boat building.