Our 200m² R&D department is the creative heartbeat of the company. This is where new products take life as they go through the phases of development. Since our startup in 2002 our R&D process underwent some changes, from hand shaping of the first plugs to the CAD/CAM/CNC of our latest creations. Below our R&D process is described by Celliers for those interested in the more technical aspects.
A kayak’s life starts as an idea. This idea might be prompted by a gap we notice in our own line-up, by requests from dealers or paddlers, or simply by a desire to create a new type of boat that hasn’t been produced by anybody yet. The idea is refined until I have a clear set of design parameters.
The second step in the process is the CAD design. I create 2D CAD drawings the same way I did when I hand-shaped our first kayaks. The hull is designed first, which includes the rocker profile, sidewalls, rails and release edges. This is the most critical part of a kayak design. If these aspects of the design don’t work together efficiently, no amount of bells and whistles is going to make the boat perform well. Once I’m happy with that, the split line, deck and cockpit is done. The ends of the kayak are left for last, as the ends can influence both the performance and appearance of the kayak in a big way. The designs are created by using a combination of analysis of what I have tested before, my theoretical knowledge of fluid dynamics, my practical knowledge based on a lot of time on the water, and of course my gut feel. So far so good.
The 2D drawings consist of a range of cross sections and outline profiles. These 2D drawings are used to make a 3D CAD profile of the kayak. This is done by a good friend of mine, Steve Horvath, the best 3D designer I care to know. The 3D drawing is discussed in detail between us, changes are made etc., until I’m happy with the look of it. The advantage of the 3D CAD profile is that I can view it from all different angles; zoom in and out etc, before anything is done physically on a piece of foam. Steve is a very competent paddler himself and understands what I’m creating, making it easier to discuss details and bounce ideas.
Once the CAD design is finalized, it is used to create the CAM files for cutting the foam plug on a CNC machine. This step is critical to make sure an accurate foam model is cut.
The kayak’s physical life starts when it is cut from a urethane foam block. This is now done on our in-house CNC router which we built in 2009. The machine’s name is Klaas and it can cut a kayak up to 6m long in one piece. Cutting takes a few days, and once it is done, we have a full scale foam kayak model which is called the plug.
We use this plug to first make a temporary fibreglass mould from which plastic prototype kayaks can be moulded. The prototypes are tested on various rivers, on flat water or on the ocean, depending on the type of kayak. Most testing is done on African waters of course, although I sometimes send prototypes to some of our international team paddlers for testing when needed. After testing some changes normally need to be made to the plug. If the changes are really small, the plug can be finished off for the next step in the process. If the changes are substantial, the prototyping process is repeated. This process can be repeated a few times, depending on how quickly the design objectives for the new model are met.
The next step is to finish the plug off completely, making sure everything is symmetrical and that all the small details are added. Once the plug is ready and polished, we make a pattern using composite materials. The pattern is a negative of the plug, and the final aluminium mould will eventually become a replica of the pattern.