Concept To Creation

There’s a cutting-edge prototype sitting just inside the entrance to one of the manufacturing facilities at Marine Concepts’ headquarters in Cape Coral, Fla.
Across from it is another.
Down at the other end of the 42,000-square-foot building, a group of men from an agency of the U.S. government are closely examining a third.
What exactly is going on here? Who are those guys, and what are all these projects?
Sorry. That information is confidential … usually.
But, with the permission of Monterey Boats — one of Marine Concepts’ longest-standing clients — Boating Industry was allowed to document the birth of a new sport yacht the boat builder will introduce this fall and, in doing so, offer a glimpse into a collaborative process that can help hasten innovation and streamline operations.
On the QT
Secrecy is paramount when you’re a company that works with dozens of clients on dozens of unique projects at any one time, designing, engineering and machining new plugs, patterns, molds and constructing parts for what are often never-before-seen products.
And it’s especially important when many of those clients do business in the same industry.
Matt Chambers, president of Marine Concepts, says the plant and milling operation can sometimes resemble a “fire drill” when customers pay a visit to review a project. Workers move quickly to conceal the other work being done with drapes or curtains to maintain the privacy of the company’s many different clients.
“If we’re working on a sailboat, we don’t have to worry about hiding a powerboat,” Chambers says. “But if there are three sailboat projects in process, you’ve got to cover the two that are being constructed for other companies.”
Picture phones are banned from the facilities where the work takes place. Not even employees are allowed to carry them (the company’s marketing manager, Phil LeBoutillier, doubles as a photographer, which is how we were able to get these shots). The company goes so far as to assign code names and numbers to each individual job as an added layer of security.
And there are a lot of codes to keep track of these days, because business at Marine Concepts is going strong.
A look inside
Continuous innovation is a must to stay profitable in an industry as competitive as boating, and never more so than when economic times are tough. Marine Concepts exists to lend other businesses a hand with that innovation, to be an extension of the customers’ engineering department, providing additional experience and ingenuity.
But at the same time, the company is unable to talk much about what it does due to the nature of that work.
That’s where Monterey enters the story. For the past two years, the Williston, Fla.-based boat manufacturer has been working with Marine Concepts on a newly unveiled 32-foot sport yacht, the 320SY.
Monterey partnered with Marine Concepts to help with some of the design elements and to create the tooling — the molds manufacturers use to create the boats, and the plug, which is used to make the molds — for the new model.
Boating Industry was given access to the details of the project and learned how the two companies worked together to create the new 320SY. The model was born out of Monterey’s desire to continually update the selection of boats it offers customers — key to remaining successful in today’s boating marketplace.
“You have to look at your model mix and plan for every four or five years you’re going to be re-doing a line of boats,” says Mark Owens, Monterey’s vice president of design and engineering, who oversaw the work that was done on the project.
Monterey made the decision to revamp its sport-yacht line and, based on the popularity of its 350SY and 400SY, decided to add a smaller boat as part of that effort.
“Based off the success of the 35 and the new 400, we had to have new smaller sport yachts coming in to upgrade the line because we’ve got a void right now, 29 to 33. There’s a $60,000 price gap there,” says Owens. “So, we’re going to fill that.”
A long partnership
Owens’ team at Monterey is always working on several different projects simultaneously and he is usually personally involved in anywhere from seven to 12 at a given time.
“You’ve got what you’re currently working on, you’ve got what’s coming up and you’ve got what’s coming out,” he says. “So you’ve got your present, your past and your future.”
Founded in the mid-80s by brothers Charles and Jeff Marshall, Monterey has grown steadily, doubling its production space in the past few years and surpassing the $100 million sales mark in 2006.
With all of its ongoing work, Monterey has often partnered with Marine Concepts, hiring the company to take on some of the tasks in the production process of certain boats.
Bob Long, owner and CEO of Marine Concepts, says the two companies have worked together since shortly after Monterey began doing business.
“They gave us the first couple of projects for them and we’ve been working with them ever since,” Long says.
It’s not an easy decision for a company that builds boats to hire a third-party to play a role in its manufacturing process, but the pace of change and need for constant innovation often make it a necessity.
“You’ve got people and you wish you could do it in-house, but we don’t have the time,” Owens says. “It’s all about time and resources. The bigger stuff takes a lot more time, and then it eats into your other resources.”
Though some companies still have reservations about outsourcing work (see “True Costs” sidebar, p. 29), Kevin Long, a project manager for Marine Concepts, says more and more companies are seeing the wisdom in looking for outside expertise on certain projects.
“Last year was probably a record year for people going out of house, in my opinion, based on the number of new customers who contracted with us,” Long says. “They said, ‘Things are tight, business is slow, I want to streamline my production and efficiency. I’m not going to be muddied up with all this other stuff in house, and so it’s easier for me to say, “Marine Concepts, you deal with this, call me when you’re done, or call me when you’re ready for review,” and I’m going to focus on my production.’”
The 320SY
Although Marine Concepts is able to work on projects of just about any size, Monterey usually asks for its assistance on boats 25 feet and longer because of its experience with larger vessels and the capability it has to build molds for boats with those dimensions. Marine Concepts owns a 3-axis router and four 5-axis CNC robotic milling machines that run 24 hours a day, and has schedulers on staff whose job it is to choreograph the work done on the unceasing parade of projects. (The company says it has as many as 100 large and small projects in process simultaneously at any given time).
And despite the months and years of work that went into creating the 320SY, that project was actually finished relatively quickly compared to others that can last much longer. In those instances, the boat is often being created essentially from scratch, with almost no frame of reference from which to start. This was not the case with the 320SY, which has some of its DNA in the shape and style of the 350SY and the configuration of Monterey’s 290CR.
Using those references as a starting point, and also keeping in mind the scope of the project — Monterey’s list of requirements for what the boat must be: aesthetics, performance, ergonomics and functionality, along with length, beam, etc. — Marine Concepts’ Director of Product Development Sidney Lanier sat down with his internal team and went to work.
Starting with a two-dimensional plan and profile, Lanier created “the look” of the boat. With Monterey’s input, he designed a three-dimensional model on his computer. His initial design was then sent to Monterey for Owens and others at the company to look at and provide feedback on, telling him what they liked and what they wanted him to modify.
“It has to be functional, it has to look good and you have to be able to build it,” Lanier says. “So you develop a concept, get buy-in on the concept and next develop a hull based on those requirements.”
Once the hull was ready for tooling, wood frames were cut based on the design, then assembled into a skeleton to which a wire lathe was stapled.
A five-inch layer of low-density foam was then sprayed onto the skeleton, tool paths were programmed into the computer controlling the mill and, once both of those operations were complete, the foam skeleton was moved into the 5-axis mill for a rough cut.
When that cut was finished, the plug was removed from the mill and workers thoroughly inspected the part, sanding any imperfections. Then a fiberglass layer was added. (After each cut is completed, the product is moved to production to glass and high-density material is applied.)
The plug was then taken back for the final cut, which can sometimes last more than a week, depending on the project’s size and complexity of the milling plan. While the hull and deck tooling were being completed, the deck design and smaller parts were finalized.
After the mill’s final cuts were made, the plug was once again inspected, with any small imperfections corrected or small tweaks made at that time.
Monterey then conducted a final review, before several days of wet and dry sanding put on the final touches.
A team effort
Although the process seems straightforward when written down, each step is labor-intensive, very deliberate and exacting. One mistake can result in costly modifications or delays. “It happens over months,” Lanier says, “you don’t just draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is the boat.’”
The process was a collaboration and constant communication continued through every step of the project.
“Marine Concepts listens to the customer, right down to the nth degree,” Owens says. “But we bounce ideas off each other. You know, ‘What would you do here, what would you do there?’ Sid will sometimes take it upon himself to do something and show it to you to see if you like it or not. He doesn’t sleep a lot.”
With the tooling finished, Monterey was able to build several boats this spring and summer for testing, and took two 320SY’s to its dealer meeting in August. As you read this, production on the model will likely have begun, and customers should be able to begin placing orders this fall.
“This is a critical part of the marine industry,” Chambers says. “It’s where sales are generated, with new products. For these owners and their dealers, there’s nothing more important. The ones that aren’t doing the new models are the ones that are having the most difficulty.”
Monterey understands that, and although it may not have the industry’s biggest workforce, the company is able to use its resources efficiently, employ outside help when needed, and continue to bring new products to market where it identifies targets of opportunity.
“We don’t have a big bureaucracy, we’re family owned and operated,” Owens says. “We’re a small company, but we’re big in name and reputation.”
Marine Concepts helps provide those economies of scale with the services it offers. Some of its customers rely solely on Marine Concepts for all the tooling they need.
“I’ve got a customer that we are their tooling shop,” Kevin Long says. “If they want a new hatch, we build that hatch, they don’t have any plug builders. [The owner] never actually brought in any overhead, he just immediately realized the benefit of going with us.”
It’s a benefit that seems to be making more and more sense these days. And that’s one secret Marine Concepts is happy to share.
Know your true costs
One of the benefits of outsourcing a project to a company like Marine Concepts is knowing the exact cost of what is being created and the work being done.
Surprisingly, when work is done in house, companies often lose track of exactly what they’re spending to accomplish certain tasks. It’s a problem Marine Concepts must deal with frequently.
“Most people don’t understand their true in-house costs, they really don’t,” says Sidney Lanier, Marine Concepts director of Product Development.
Kevin Long, a project manager at Marine Concepts, says some companies focus on the payroll costs for their own employees working on a given project, but overlook less tangible costs and the impact that work has on productivity in other areas.
“A lot of times they think they’re much cheaper in house and they don’t realize the effect they’re having,” Long says. “They’re pulling their production engineers off and those engineers are working on their tooling project when they should be working on production projects.
“They have to hire a guy that will be there full time, and when he’s not doing tooling he’s doing busy work. Yeah, he’s working on something, but that’s a cost you have. With materials, it gets so muddied up among their overhead that they’ll end up just taking the hourly. [They say to themselves] ‘Oh, I pay that guy $20 an hour, so it costs $20 an hour.’ No, it doesn’t. You can’t look at it that way.”
Marine Concepts provides access to the latest design and milling technology as well as expertise in both those areas. The company is a fixed-cost alternative to maintaining the kinds of tools and staff necessary to take on big engineering projects, and can be a valuable way to streamline resources while still being able to bring new products to market.
“Some companies can’t afford to do all this by themselves,” says Bob Long, owner and CEO of Marine Concepts. “They can’t afford a million-dollar router for the amount of projects they do. And others that have bought routers, they have some nice routers but they don’t have the skill with the people behind them. That’s what sets us apart.”
Lanier says that when he was engineering manager for Hydra-Sports, he used to track his in-house costs closely and hired Marine Concepts to make the molds and cut the tools his company used because “it didn’t make sense” to maintain high payroll costs when projects were continually ramping up and down.
“You can basically cut your engineering staff in half,” Lanier says. “You can still have your engineering staff doing the engineering, but then they are the ones reviewing designs with us. And it works really well, because now they’re reviewing the design work that we’re working on interactively with them to see how it fits into their process to make sure it doesn’t deviate into an area that maybe doesn’t work with their process.
“Focus on building boats and building them well and let us get the tooling ready for you.”

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