THE WINNER FACTORY
THIS IS WHERE WINNERS ARE MADE!
I recently visited the state of the art factory in Faaborg Denmark. It is a great seaside town on the southern coast of Fyn (Funen), which is the middle island of Denmark, just 2-3 hours from Copenhagen. It is so Danish… with it’s gorgeous harbour, old yellow and white buildings all built together and overlooking cobblestone streets and walkways.
Here are a couple of pics from my trip. Enjoy…..
I can’t show you the inner workings of the factory in too much detail, but needless to say, everyone there shares the same passion for excellence you have read about, and enjoys a state of the art facility.
That’s Stig on the left, the Managing Director of Winner Optimist DK. His boats are sold in over 60 countries throughout the world.
Building sailboats in fiberglass is a fascinating process. It is a delicate balance of engineering, art and science. Like most things, the end product can be no better than the materials used to construct it. Moreover, in the case of fiberglass, the quality of the end product is inextricably linked to the environment in which it was built. Winner is the only temperature and humidity controlled factory dedicated solely to the manufacture of Optimists. A fiberglass boat can be no better than the factory it was built in.
Fiberglass boats start their lives as rolls of cloth and drums of liquid chemicals. The materials we begin with have little in common with the product that is produced, they are completely transformed. This is fundamentally different than most products. Consider a car, for example. We can recognise each of it’s component parts as they enter the factory. It makes little difference where your car is assembled, whether the factory chose to heat at 50 degrees or 80 degrees, 5% humidity or 50%. The environmental fluctuations will not effect the quality of your car. This is not so with fiberglass. In a factory that produces fiberglass, every aspect of the environment must be considered and controlled. Most sailors, even most boat builders, overlook the fact that every fiberglass boat is literally being built at the molecular level.
No detail goes unnoticed at Winner. The factory is fitted with climate and dust control systems. We can’t show you pictures inside the factory (our competition would love to see that) but, we can give some examples of what we do and why.
Winner Optimists are built in the most controlled environment possible. Because fiberglass boats start life as rolls of cloth and barrels of chemicals, the right climate is critical. Any fluctuations in temperature or humidity have startling effects on the chemical processes that transform buckets of resin and drops of catalyst into the structural components of boats. Try baking a cake at 200 degrees, or 300 degrees and you’ll see what we mean.
DUST & HUMIDITY CONTROL
Some things are obvious, like dust control. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to paint your car next to someone who was grinding and sanding but, that’s exactly what many boat builders do. They circulate the same dusty air from grinding room to spray booth to lay up with no sealed rooms and no dust scrubbers. Other things aren’t so obvious. Take humidity for example. It may not seem important that a factory be at a specific humidity level but, in fact, it is critical. The effects of humidity fluctuations can most readily be seen in the finish quality of the gel coat. (the shiny, colorful outer layer of a fiberglass boat) If the humidity level drops, static electricity builds up and the moulds attract dust particles like magnets. (Especially if you’re not controlling your dust). The dust is then trapped when the gel coat is sprayed and shows up as imperfections on the bottom and sides of the boat. If humidity rises, water vapour can be trapped and alter the chemistry of the gel coat, changing it’s physical properties. So, finding the perfect balance and maintaining that level is an important and integral part of construction. Winner is the only Optimist builder in the world that actively controls it’s factory’s humidity levels.
Temperature control is also crucial but, difficult to achieve and often ignored. The fumes produced by fiberglass resin require that huge volumes of air be chemically scrubbed or constantly exchanged with the outside environment. So, most boat builders work in an essentially open environment, only heating and cooling to keep temperatures tolerable for employees. But this attempt to save money comes at the cost of quality.
Temperature affects the speed and intensity of the chemical reaction that transforms resin and catalyst into the solid matrix that forms the structure of a boat. This problem is compounded because the resin/catalyst reaction is exothermic (it produces heat) so, increased temperature causes an exponentially greater release of heat. Conversely, low temperatures cause the heat of the reaction to drop drastically. Both cause serious problems for the boat builder. If temperatures rise, the resin will start to thicken and solidify, making an even application impossible. Or, if the temperature drops, the resin may take a very long time to solidify and the resin may collect in pools and leave voids or soft spots. This is just one of many problems caused by temperature fluctuations. At Winner, we avoid all these problems with chemical scrubbers and a state of the art heating and cooling system. The advantages don’t stop at quality either. Our dust and chemical scrubbers also protect the environment as well as the health or our employees.
Building an Optimist starts with a set of International Optimist Dinghy Association approved moulds. The quality and construction of these moulds is the first of many steps toward a great boat. If the moulds aren’t perfect, the boat will never be right. To be perfect, the moulds need to be engineered from scratch, as they are at Winner. Some Optimist builders have taken shortcuts by “splashing” their moulds, essentially copying a finished boat rather than engineering it. This is a real problem because fiberglass boats shrink when they’re built, this is compounded because a “splashed” mould will also shrink, doubling the problem. The result is boats that don’t fit together properly and start their lives strained and forced together. When moulds are engineered and built to proper design specifications, shrinkage is factored in so that the moulds are flawless and the component parts of the boat fit properly.
The people who build Winner Optimists have been doing just that for over 25 years. Our Optimists were already winning world championships before most builders rolled out their first boat. This has given us the experience to observe what happens to boats in field and evolve our construction techniques to prevent problems.
These Winners are just resting………Shh!