Ship Building Tour Highlights

Menu For all Cruise Reviews MENU

Palmer Johnson

Ship Reviews: Cruise Ship reviews More Info

2002 Date: 3/1/2002

Previous Cruise Page More Info

Next Cruise Page More Info

Email: greg@cruisingreview.com

TEL: 608-238-6001


The custom luxury yacht works at Palmer Johnson was a thrill to see. For any ship and yacht enthusiast, the building works at Palmer Johnson in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin gives an inside look at how luxury boats are made all from 1/4 and 1/2 inch aluminum plates.

Observations by: Greg "Pepe" Giese (recommendations below are some of my ideas to make the operation more efficient)

Aluminum Structure

The basic boat structure is comprised of aluminum sheets which are welded to a frame of stringers and supports. The entire structure is aluminum, with a host of finishing products such as teak for decking, fabric panels for ceilings, laminated and burl wood for cabinets and walls, and marble tiles for bathroom interiors. The aluminum supports and stringers which comprise the frame of the structure perform a double duty of support as well as providing a runway for a myriad of cables, pipes, tubes, and wires. You will notice that the aluminum has a "brushed" appearance which is part of the fabrication process to prepare it for welding and finishing.


The hulls have supports welded to the bottom of the boats, which eventually get replaced by huge inflatable tired dollies. Once the basic ship structure is complete, it is rolled outside where the final superstructure is attached (because of interior building height restrictions). The entire ship is then rolled into a drydock (dollies and all) which is then filled with water, and the yacht is floated off.

Custom Work

The amount of initial work and change-work order is very labor intensive in personnel and materials. Captains and/or owner's representatives follow the construction through completion and will recommend changes before, during and after fabrication.

Pipe Change

The first improvement I would make for a more efficient operation would be to implement the use of Kitec (PEX) flexible pressure pipe, in place of the rigid pipes currently used. The labor time savings alone would be substantial. In addition, the change-order time savings in both planning and installation would be simplified, since the pipe is flexible, and through the use of compression fittings. Not only can the Kitec be used for hot and cold fluid transfer, but can also be used for rapid deployment of cable duct, air (pressurized and compressed) duct, grey and black water transport, sensor and fiber optic housing, radiant floor heating, and finally a central air vacuum system.

Kitec flexible pressure composite piping can be used for a wide range of applications saving time and money

Modular Flooring and Structural System by the use of SIMM

The biggest improvement would be the application of a SIMM (structural insulated mechanicals module). This modular building block would measure a standard 2' wide by any length, and would be anywhere from 4 to 12 inches thick. Basically this is a SIP (structural insulated panel) which is comprised of a 4-12" thickness of expanded polystyrene sandwiched between two 1/4" pieces of aluminum. SIP's (or commonly referred to as Stressed Skin Insulated Panels which have been used in the housing industry for some time) could be pre-made with conduit runs already installed. Not only does this provide a mass-produced structural unit, but it would provide huge cost savings in the reduced repetition of a standard unit installation.

Structural Support and Insulation

The SIMM would replace the highly replicated floor system of plate aluminum and support frame (and associated runs of cables, pipes, and electrical wire) with a integral sandwich panel, which is already insulated. The unit would provide twice the strength of the legacy system in use now, by providing a sandwiched panel which acts like an "I" beam. When the SIMM module is formed, expanding two-part foam is sprayed on a aluminum panel, then as the foam combines, it expands onto another aluminum panel under pressure. The result is two aluminum panels locked together by EPS foam. For additional rigidity, carbon fiber could also be added. Conduit runs could be computer drilled through the foam, or Kitec composite flexible pressure pipes or ducts could be incorporated into the foaming process, forming a permanent bonding of the Kitec into the sandwich construction.

Integral Mechanical and Electrical Runs

The SIMM would have already installed in the EPS foam sandwich Kitec flexible pressure composite pipe, electrical, sensor, and air ducts. In addition, with the use of a CNC machine run by a CAD program, halogen, fluorescent and fiber optic light receptacles could easily be incorporated into a standard module. For more custom builds, the ducting or runway could be prepared, to be followed by cable pulls through the Kitec. Of course, this would be the perfect application for some spare runs for equipment added in the future which needed to be networked throughout the ship. For emergency systems like a sprinkler or foam system, this would be the perfect integration for both sensor detector units, and response delivery.

Smart Connecting Modules

While the SIMM could easily replace the current "custom" flooring and wall system, the true advantages of it would be how the panels are connected, by the use of an expander module. Basically, the expander module would connect the mechanical and electrical runs of the modules together through the use of compression fittings that are adjustable from the outside of the panel, via a keyway. These expander modules could provide branch connectors, outlets, and even house sensors which would tell a central computer such monitoring activities like temperature, pressure, flow rates and even movement via the use of the Texas Instruments 1-wire and iButton. 1-wire and iButton technology is an incredibly compact 16 mm unit with it's own IO port and TCP/IP connectivity with a unique IP address can record, process and transmit information to a central unit. On a more basic scale, visual flow indicators such as a sight-glass or gauge could also be incorporated for fluid management.

SIMM Module Finishing

Better yet, using a SIMM module for floor or a ceiling panel could have one, or both surfaces pre finished, for rapid installation. The surface could be anything from a fine leather, to laminate wood, or even an exotic marble or other polished stone. If lighting appliance housing were included, installation time savings would be even greater. Best of all, the units come insulated, which means less pip or cable vibration, and less noise to the occupants of the boat.

Economies of Scale Save in Production Time

Using a simple standardized module such as the SIMM would save labor and associated installation costs, while at the same time, would allow for a customized built in every other fashion. Modular construction is now standard in cruise ship builds without compromising the unique look and character of the ship. Applied to a smaller scale, the economic benefits are great, along with huge time savings, which directly affect the delivery component of the yacht, and final cost to the builder.

Electric Generation and Propulsion

The current prime movers for the Palmer Johnson yachts are two main diesels direct driving two propellers, and two main diesel generators. The future of luxury yachts will be "Mermaid" pod propulsion systems which can rotate 360 degrees, and are currently used aboard ocean going tugboats, ocean liners, and workboats. Turbine generators are already in use in some of the new-build cruise ships, and could easily be applied to larger luxury yachts by either a dual large turbine, or a series of smaller 60 kw Capstone Turbines. Since the Capstone turbines are modular, have no vibration, low noise and scalable, they are the perfect solution for compact installations aboard luxury yachts. Powering a KaMeWa waterjet, or "mermaid" pod system, vibration is virtually eliminated.

CONTACT TEL: 608-238-6001 Email: greg@cruisingreview.com