A new course for Maine boatbuilding
U.S. Navy SEAL teams often use Mark V
Special Operations Crafts to quickly get in and out of sticky
situations. But the aluminum insertion vessel's speed, durability and
maneuverability come at a cost: repeated impact strain and injuries
caused when the lightweight craft skips across the waves.
University of Maine mechanical engineering graduate student Kate
Stephens is out to change that. In the process, she also may help point
Maine boatbuilding in a new direction.
Stephens, who received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering at
UMaine last May, is a key player in a cooperative effort involving the
university, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the boatbuilding team
at Hodgdon Yachts in East Boothbay, Maine. The project brings together
cutting-edge composites technologies spearheaded by UMaine's Advanced
Engineered Wood Composite Center (AEWC) and the long tradition of
quality boatbuilding at Hodgdon Yachts. Its success could mean hundreds
of millions of dollars in boatbuilding contracts in the state.
"This is a great opportunity for Maine's boatbuilding industry," says
Stephens, a native of Harpswell, Maine. "The lab work that we have done
shows real progress. We're setting milestones with every test."
While the project's aim is to improve the original Mark V, a primary
goal is to use specialized composite materials in the hull and elsewhere
that can absorb the shock created by high-speed travel. By dampening the
effects of the boat's repeated impacts as it skims across the waves, the
new materials can help protect the crew from back, neck and joint
Working with her adviser, AEWC technical services manager Bob Lindyberg,
Stephens has developed and refined an innovative impact test that was
used to select the composite material with the greatest shock-absorbent
properties. Ultimately, ONR believes Stephens' test will be of great
value when designing new composite boats.
Maine has a long history of building military vessels, but contracts for
smaller, high-tech designs have largely been awarded elsewhere. By
combining the facilities and expertise at Hodgdon Yachts with the
technological advances being made at UMaine, the project has the
potential to open a new market for the state. The project has already
resulted in the creation of a new company. Maine Marine Manufacturing
LLC, the prime contractor for the construction of the full-scale
technology demonstrator called the Mark V.1, plans on competing for the
contract to replace the Mark V fleet.
"Through collaboration with the university, our team is able to compete
for the Mark V replacement contract, which is in the range of $200
million. We didn't have that opportunity before," says Steve Von Vogt,
president of Maine Marine Manufacturing. "Bob and Kate's work in the
composites lab has played an important part in the project all along.
This is not just theoretical research that they are doing, this is about
putting a deployable, high-tech design in the water for actual use by