Conquering international waters with Canadian technology
August 06, 2013— Kingston, Ontario
Cruise ship passengers on the Panama Canal may see 50-foot Canadian boats ferrying workers and heavy equipment to various construction sites along the 80-km Canal, which is being expanded to double its capacity by 2015. Built by Kingston, Ontario-based MetalCraft Marine, these and other workboats—including fire, rescue, patrol and emergency boats—are doing important work around the world for demanding customers that include the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.
Over the past 26 years, MetalCraft has grown from a small 40-employee boat shop to a 125-employee global leader in high-performance aluminum workboats. Having tripled its sales over the past five years and expanded far beyond North American borders, the company aims to boost annual revenues from the current $20 million to $100 million by 2025.
MetalCraft has won several industry awards for technological and environmental advancements. “Our fireboats, which integrate fire-pumping and propulsion systems, continue to set records for both speed and pumping capabilities,” says Michael Allen, general manager of MetalCraft Marine. “We also won a green award at the 2012 New Orleans Workboat Show for our first hybrid boat in Annapolis Harbor, powered by electricity and solar panels.”
Mission possible with NRC-IRAP
In “missions” such as putting out fires, rescuing marine workers and patrolling harbours, speed and efficiency can make a difference between life and death. And the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) was there at the beginning, helping to develop the advanced technology that catapulted MetalCraft into the international spotlight.
Allen points out that succeeding in the global marketplace means offering superior technology at competitive prices, solving problems that other suppliers cannot, and adapting workboat designs to satisfy a wide range of customers. “As a small company competing against global giants, we could not have achieved this level of success without key partners such as NRC-IRAP.”
Essential to MetalCraft’s long-term survival is continually developing better propulsion systems, hybrid boats and other cutting-edge technology. Also critical is constantly improving manufacturing costs through IRAP-funded Lean initiatives to reduce waste and add value for customers. “We have cut the time to build a hull by 20 per cent—from five months to three for a 36-foot boat. This lowers our costs and allows us to build more boats per year,” says Allen.
MetalCraft’s flexible boat designs are also an attractive feature for customers, since they save time and money. For example, the Panama Canal crewboats can be adapted for two or three engines and modified to carry 26 or 42 passengers. “This allows a customer to buy virtually the same boat for different needs, so they don’t have to pay for different designs,” adds Allen. “It also means that vessel operators don’t need retraining every time a new boat is added to their workfleet.” In addition, the vessels have broken speed records: in the Canal, they have cut the hours of travel time from docks to various workplaces by over 50 per cent.
“Over the years, NRC-IRAP has helped by providing financial assistance, offering guidance and insights into technical ideas and their marketability, and introducing us to connections that enabled us to expand internationally.”
Making waves with hybrid technology
Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) Harriet Waterman is working with MetalCraft on hybrid technology that uses solar panels to power boats. “The initiative was launched for the massive Annapolis harbour in Baltimore, Maryland to collect docking fees, do pumpouts and patrol—work previously done by conventional 22-foot diesel-powered boats,” she says. “MetalCraft converted one of these boats into an electric one powered by the sun, allowing it to run all day long in the harbour and recharge its batteries without polluting the air.” MetalCraft is now adapting the technology to a 44-foot boat for the Canadian Coast Guard and developing a commercially viable product for even larger boats with faster speeds, different designs such as the catamaran, and a wider range of missions.
“We believe in providing our customers with the best value, but that requires considerable investment in ongoing technology research and development,” says Michael Allen, general manager of MetalCraft Marine. “We could not do that without NRC-IRAP.”
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