Ship shape trend

Posted on 12 Nov 2010 by The Manufacturer

Trend Marine is a partner and principal supplier to many of the most prestigious boat builders around the globe. Tim Brown talks to technical and sales director, Robin Thatcher, about the company’s recent investments and its commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.

When it comes to prestige, few manufacturers rival that of the luxury boat building industry. With a customer base that reads like the front page of a Forbes rich list, the likes of Sunseeker International or Princess Yachts are among some of the most envied companies in the world.

The expectations of such a high calibre clientele are, of course, sky-high. As a result, suppliers to the industry must adhere to the highest standards of excellence.

Formed 37 years ago and operating primarily in the leisure industry, Trend Marine manufactures large glazing solutions — windows, doors, sunroofs — for luxury and leisure boats. Trend is a part of the Taylor Made Group, the largest marine glazing group in the world; Trend itself is the largest supplier of marine glazing systems in Europe, and delivers 70% of the windows used by Britain’s best known luxury boat builders including Sunseeker, Princess and Fairline. The company has also developed a remarkable export business, designing and manufacturing items for boat builders in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and Asia.

The company’s success is founded on its ability to produce in-house complex glass bending, dramatically curved toughened glass, and its renowned ability and expertise in metal forming. For stainless steel, this has been achieved through the development of customised forming and bending machines. The company also offers short production runs at competitive prices: an ideal solution for the semi-production/ customised sector of the leisure boat market.

According to Trend, new yacht designs, both power and sail, are conceived to make the whole experience of yachting even more enjoyable. Along with drop-down beach-clubs and fold out en-suite balconies, there is a quest to make a connection between the marine environment even closer with the use of products such as large windows, doors, deck lights and movable glazed windbreaks. A modern yacht is full of light, with sight-lines to the sea from every part of the yacht.

Rising above
Using partial asset-backed finance, Trend recently purchased the latest in sag-bending furnaces and chemical toughening systems.

The considerable investment allows the company to produce not only larger curved glazing units but also tight curves and conical shapes in matched pairs for laminating, in a single operation. With the addition of this plant to the 12 acre manufacturing facility, Trend’s customers will be able to specify a complete boat-set, shipped as a turn-key package including the fitting team to complete the job.

Despite already having extensive expertise in forming and thermally toughening glass, Trend needed to develop a greater understanding of the procedures involved in chemically toughening glass. Prior to taking delivery of the large chemical toughening bath, the company manufactured a small pilot plant to do some experimentation and development work alongside an academic partner.

“We wanted to make a big investment to allow us to gain further strength in the market,” says Thatcher. “That investment is the platform to allow us to move further in to the super yacht industry. We have been moving in to that industry effectively by invitation through our existing and new customers and that investment will allow us to offer a far more flexible and complete offering than we have previously provided. It is a big strategic investment for us and we have spent quite a bit of time preparing for it. As well as working with academic institutions in order to ensure we have all the technical risks covered, we have also been working with strategic industry partners to provide products and services.” In September, Thatcher and other members of the Trend Marine team attended the Monaco Yacht Show. The level of interest at the show provided a strong indication that the European shipbuilding market has stabilised and, indeed, is improving in some sectors. According to Thatcher, there was also considerably more interest in super yachts at this year’s show than there was 12 months ago and, with the company’s increased capacity due to recent investments, he expects that to mean more business for Trend.

“We really see that the key to drive the business forward is technical innovation,” says Thatcher. “Whether it is technical innovation in the manufacturing environment or technical innovation in terms of products, we endeavour to work very closely with our customers in order to find ways to better serve them. That is the vision.”

In the market
Trend considers itself to have a fantastic capability and understanding of glass which allows it to manufacture the benchmark glazing products for the marine market.

The company is a niche, low-volume manufacturer with a strong range of technologies deployed in the production of glass related products. Of course the marine market is not the only industry requiring such expertise, and Trend are more than aware that there are opportunities to exploit their knowledge and technology in other industries.

While marine is the primary focus for the company, Trend is also currently pursuing bespoke non-marine opportunities.

“We have a big focus on marine currently, but are very aware that many of our technologies are applicable to other industries. We have, for example, been working on developing bullet resistant glass. That has applications outside of the marine industry for vehicles in conflict zones and also for military vehicles. We expect demand for the sag-bent glass in to architectural arenas for niche applications. There are also opportunities for highspeed transportation vehicles such as helicopters and trains which we perceive there will, in the future, be an opportunity to sell the glass in those directions as well. We do however expect the marine market to remain the core of the business.”

Continuously improving
In 2003, Trend initiated a lean programme. Seven years later and the company has thoroughly leaned all its factories, and is now looking at individual improvement projects within the factories for cost savings such as quicker tool changeover times and improved manufacturing methods. Thatcher says the company is currently completing value stream mapping right across the site which will better integrate the manufacturing activities with the office based activities engineering, ordering and despatching processes. “We are hoping to reduce unnecessary activities which don’t add any value and are expecting to simplify the interfaces between manufacturing and the order intake process such as the material ordering process and the engineering of products. During the recession, our customers also had less visibility of the requirements of their customers so we have had to adopt some flexible approaches within our material ordering and our manufacturing planning in order to cope with their needs. Our customers have worked hard to better manage the order intake process so we have seen demand become progressively more stable.” In order to satisfy the high expectations of end customers, the continuous improvement of quality is always a big focus of the company.

Trend measure the number of defects, sets targets and implements plans in order to achieve those targets.

“Customers that take delivery of an expensive high-end yacht will expect exemplary quality and we are achieving those standards and planning to improve on them,” says Thatcher. “The big issue for the strength of the glass is the hydrostatic pressure that it has to meet in service and the other issue is the customer expectation that it is going to be completely defect-free. We have to be very exacting in terms of our specifications.” The buoyancy of a vessel is reliant on the glass used in its construction remaining intact. Trend work closely with classification societies which includes Lloyds Register to ensure the glass being used can resist the specified pressures. By performing its own inhouse hydrostatic testing, Trend is able to provide a thinner piece of glass that still meets the safety requirements and thereby saves weight and enhances the performance of the vessel.

The reduction of waste is another area that Trend is constantly trying to improve. To produce its products, Trend buys float glass, annealed glass (stress free flat glass) in various thicknesses.

Using a CNC scribing table, the glass is etched and the bits off that which are not required are removed. The company is certified to the environmental standard ISO14001 which requires Trend to continually reduce the amount of waste it produces. One of the recent improvements at the company was the introduction of software that nests the desired cut glass shapes in the most efficient arrangement possible so as to maximise the use of the glass and minimise waste.

With a consistent focus on innovation across all aspects of the company, Trend Marine is not only seeking to improve its business operation but also the experience of its clients. By diversifying its portfolio to provide a holistic approach to marine glazing, the company has not only extended its range but also simplified the process of acquiring the necessary glass products required by ship builders. Looking to a future focussed on the marine industry while also looking for opportunities to expand beyond ship building, this is a company that will continue to set the trend as an innovator in its field.