On my way to work recently the “Kayaks on Sale” sign caught my eye. I really like to kayak, and usually do each summer along the coast of Maine or on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. However, it wasn’t a longing for a kayak or time on the water that caught my eye. What really caught my eye was the price.
A kayak on sale for $899 may seem like a great deal to a kayak enthusiast, but as a plastics professional, I thought to myself, “Wow, $899 for about $50 worth of plastic resin.” Then I was immediately struck by the unfairness of my perspective.
Why is that perspective unfair? If the consumer bought a fifty pound bag of plastic pellets for $50, instead of a kayak, that’s a fair deal, I thought. However, this led me to think about the links between the pellets and the kayak, the materials, molds and machines required. Those factors don’t come easy and they don’t come cheap.
First, there is the material itself. A plastic resin manufactured into a kayak must be UV-resistant, have the proper strength and toughness, and can accept paint and decals This material has to be envisioned, formulated, and verified with extensive testing prior to even considering embarking on future steps of production. It is challenging to specify a polymer molecular structure that has the bulk and surface characteristics that must be satisfied to have an acceptable product. In fact, there are plastic resins that are specifically formulated for the unique performance requirements of kayaks, such as FortiFlex.
An alternative approach is to use a multi-layer sheet material to produce the product where each layer has optimized engineering properties and characteristics. The outer layer contains an increased level of UV stabilizer, the middle layer is engineered for strength, toughness and puncture resistance, while the inner layer is tailored for UV resistance and user comfort. Different colorants can also be used on the inner and outer sheets of aesthetic purposes and to reduce heating in the cockpit for solar radiation. Sheet material used to form the finished kayak may be raw materials produced with multiple layers of individually engineered plastic materials – Carbonlite, Duralex and Royalex, to name a few.
Second, a mold needs to be designed and manufactured. The mold established the gemometric and structural features of the kayak, so it must impart every detail required of the finished kayak. A high level of skill and experience is needed to produce the mold, so it’s no surprise that it can cost an upwards of $10,000 to simply manufacture the mold.
Third, rotomolding would be used to produce the kayak. The rotomolding machine has a loading station, a heating station where the plastic is softened or melted to assure that the plastic conforms to the contours of the mold surface, and a cooling station that will return the plastic to a temperature that allows the product to be demolded and handled without warpage. At the end of this process you are looking at a machine costing an upwards of several hundred thousand dollars.
Although at first glance it seems like only three simple steps need to come together to create a functioning and good-looking kayak. It’s not so simple. All of these steps need to be properly executed and well thought out, which requires time and financial investment, in order to create an exceptional product with great customer satisfaction.
$899 for a kayak? On second thought, I think the price is right.