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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

A new course for Maine boatbuilding

Kate Stephens

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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 injuries.

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 the military."


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