The International Boatbuilders Exhibition & Conference Highlights the Need for Manufacturing Production Flexibility

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By Ryan Martin | 4Q 2021 | IN-6304

The International Boatbuilders Exhibition & Conference (IBEX) 2021 kicked off on September 28 in Tampa, Florida, for the first time in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Meeting of the Minds


The International Boatbuilders Exhibition & Conference (IBEX) 2021 kicked off on September 28 in Tampa, Florida, for the first time in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The show is a trade-only event open to qualified marine industry professionals and is a champion for the boating industry, representing builders, designers, and sellers with the intention of congregating marine industry leaders to share ideas and accelerate new product innovation. IBEX is a highly focused marine technology trade show dedicated to advancing the business of boating and is represented by industry stalwarts that include Honda, Mercury, Yamaha, the American Boatbuilders Association, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA).

A Boon for the Boating Industry


According to the NMMA, there are more than 11.87 million registered boats in the United States, and 95% of these boats are made domestically. The industry employs more than 691,000 workers in the United States; 93% (35,000) of boat manufacturers are small businesses. Together, these figures have a total economic impact of US$170.3 billion per annum.

The pandemic was regarded by many as a gift to the marine industry due to an uplift in interest and sales as a result of social-distancing guidelines that motivated people to explore bodies of water. While this sentiment remains today, there is an awareness that it will not last forever and that supply chain constraints have had a lasting effect on inventory levels—including boats that sit in yards and that cannot be sold because of component shortages spanning from metals and housings to engines and fittings. At one point, there was a constraint on windshields because windshield producers were building face shields; now, it is more due to the delay of getting goods (raw materials) from overseas providers. Some manufacturers have reported long backups at ports and cost increases on container shipments of four to five times the original price.

Electric Boats, Production Flexibility, and Time to Market


There were many product-centric innovations at IBEX, such as new assisted docking (Volvo Penta), canopy lighting solutions (KanvasLight), and propeller shapes that improve mid-range thrust and performance (Sharrow Marine). However, the larger trends are around converting or making electric boats, improving production flexibility, and speeding the time to market.

About 86% of new vessels under 47 feet are powered by outboard motors, and there are five major brands that make these boats today: Mercury, Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. Only Mercury is manufactured in the United States. The others—Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki—are all manufactured in Japan. Previously, Evinrude and Johnson Outboards were part of the mix as they were manufactured in Canada; however, both entities departed the market in 2020 after owner Bombardier Recreational Products decided not to compete in the segment.

This dynamic makes for an interesting path to market for innovation as well as for new entrants in electrification. One route is to innovate through existing manufacturing bases; another is for a startup to create a superstar product and then partner with an established manufacturing outfit to scale production. The former is the route Mercury will likely take (but not until 2023 at the earliest) while the latter is exemplified by Vision Marine Technologies; they have a very under-the-radar partnership with Linamar (Canada’s second-largest automobile parts manufacturer after Magna International) that will grant access to manufacturing production facilities in Michigan. Linamar also owns well-known brands like McLaren.

Production flexibility and time to market will improve via better program management and organization of suppliers. One such example in the automotive industry is Actify—they could take their solution into marine manufacturing—though companies such as Siemens also have a place to play. The other Trojan horse for production flexibility and speeding time to market is 3D printing. While only one company, Massivit 3D, was identified as using 3D printing at IBEX, multiple manufacturers of different sizes have admitted to using 3D printing in their foundries. Marine manufacturing remains an untapped market for these applications, notably in building molds and tooling and, in select instances, end-use parts. Massivit 3D is unique in that it focuses on large format (57" x 44" x 70") printing; however, there are plenty of places for production solutions designed for speed and repeatability.