Royalex: A history and Viable Alternatives

Royalex is no longer an option.

For an avid whitewater canoeist, a durable boat is an important factor when running rapids. Not only is durability important, but also the boat must be made out of a flexible and buoyant material. Royalex is a material that provided all of these benefits, at a reasonable cost to canoe manufacturers. After an acquisition of PolyOne Corp. in 2013, the production of Royalex and the sheets that were once manufactured by PolyOne came to a complete stop in 2014. [5] For over 35 years, Royalex had formed a reputation for the most durable canoe building raw materials that does not sacrifice weight. [11] In 2014 after the closing of Royalex manufacturing, there became a clear market opportunity for a material that was as light as Royalex while maintaining high durability similar to polyethylene and aluminium based boats.

Thomas overlooking rapids
We can run that, right Tom?

Are Poly Canoes Worth it?

The issue with polyethylene boats are the weight; as this is inconvenient for out of water travel, and the prolonged damage they can receive from UV rays after being stored outdoors when not in use. [15] Other canoe materials such as fibreglass and Kevlar will not be examined as they do not fall under whitewater classification or minimum durability required for running rapids. Understanding that Royalex was in demise, canoe manufacturers reacted by innovating new materials and patenting. In 2015 Nova Craft Canoe located in London, ON [9] invented a new material called “TuffStuff”. [4] The makeup of the material is developed to be nearly as durable as the material Royalex, although they are assumed to be protected under Trade Secret. One of the key materials associated with the production in TuffStuff is a strong polymer. PolyOne, one of the raw material manufacturers used in canoe production recently filed a new patent for “Soft, strong plastisols” associated with the moulding of polyvinyl chloride, plasticizer and trimethylolpropane trimethacrylate liquid resin. [8] Understanding the viability of a new branded canoe material such as TuffStuff, is important as the consumer must trust the materiel will meet expectations in comparison to the standard of Royalex. In the past the price of an average whitewater canoe is $1,500 USD. [5] That equates to roughly $2,010 CAD as of April 2017. In comparison, a TuffStuff canoe prices at about $2,400 CAD. [7] A competitive analysis will be completed to analyse the competition and their prices as well. The focus of this analysis will be on TuffStuff and related materials such as T-Formex for canoe construction and the viability over its predecessor Royalex for customer valuation.

Royalex Diagram
[11]

What makes a material good enough to be subsequent to Royalex is the 5 layers of material combined for selective reinforcement. [11] Starting from exterior going inwards, the first later in Royalex is made up of pigmented vinyl for the colour. [11] This also protects against UV rays and surface scratches. The second layer is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene substrate layers which provides the required strength to the boat’s hull. [11] This also takes the impact upon hits to rocks or hard surfaces. The third layer is the middle, the buoyant layer. This is an acrylonitrile butadiene styrene expanded foam core, which is a closed cell. [11] This provides additional buoyancy and therefore flotation tanks are not needed. [11] The fourth layer is another structural layer of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene for impacts within the inside of the canoe. Lastly, the interior layer of pigmented vinyl provided UV resistance and provides internal colour. [11] The difference in production between Royalex and a new composite such as TuffStuff is that Royalex is sold in sheets, produced by manufacturer PolyOne and sold to various canoe manufacturers. [1] TuffStuff is produced during the production of Nova Craft Canoes, and cannot be sold as a composite material, as it is solely used for Nova Craft Canoes in London, ON. [4]

Royalex made boat production easy.

The difference to a canoe manufacturer when making a whitewater canoe using a composite material such as Royalex versus TuffStuff which uses various materials is the molding process. Royalex could be purchased in large sheets the length of a canoe. [1] The sheets would then be heated in an oven by the canoe manufacturer, laid over a mold and used suction to form the boat by drawing it down into the mold. [1] This process is simple and cost effective to produce whitewater canoes, as the skilled labour involved with developing a composite from scratch increases costs to canoe manufacturers. Innovations in the production of composites for canoes involve the creation during the molding process such as TuffStuff. [4] A quote from a Missoulian article states it well; “nothing spurs innovation like scarcity” [1] and this is referring to the diminishing supply of Royalex. Now that the composite is no longer in production alternative innovations have appeared such as T-Formex and TuffStuff. T-Formex is a composite material stated to be better 20x stronger and 10% lighter than Royalex. [10] It was announced to be produced by company Esquif in 2014, which is a canoe manufacturer located in Québec. [10] The company stated in an interview that they were building a 6,000-square foot manufacturing facility to produce the composite, [10] but gave no information on if they plan to sell the composite or use it solely with manufacturing of their own canoe line. A trademark search found T-Formex registered under the Canadian Trademarks Database as number 1669788. [3] A patent search found no result for a registration of the innovation by company Esquif, however they do claim the patent of a structural improvement to canoe hulls, likely to be used with whitewater boats. [2] A secondary search on the company Nova Craft Canoe found no patents registered for canoe related structures. No trademarks have been found registered by Nova Craft. However, trademarks using the text TuffStuff have been found unrelated to Nova Craft. [3]

Royalex in History.

As it has been seen in the past, cash flow can be difficult for production of low margin composites such as Royalex. It was first produced in the 1970s by a company called Uniroyal. It was then produced by Spartech in Warsaw, Indiana. [1] Spartech was bought out by PolyOne in 2013. [5] After the buyout, the production of Royalex and the plant was shut down. [1] The reason the material was not profitable for the parent company is due to the reason Royalex is in a niche market, meaning only canoe manufacturers are the clients. As a mega company, such as Spartech, their business scope is outside niche markets, as they can be too much of a risk. Their focus in on large markets and due to the circumstances of Royalex’s positioning in a niche market, the doors were closed and this has opened the canoe hull material market for innovations.

What’s the Viable option?

The question is now, who is willing to take on the challenge of distributing a new material to canoe manufacturers? Or, who is willing to build their own technology exclusive to their own product lines? The answer is still up in the air; however, we have recently seen some manufacturers take on the challenge. Some manufacturers have dropped the whitewater canoe lines altogether and place focus on touring boats made of Kevlar and Fiberglass such as Swift Canoe & Kayak. [14] Is it more profitable for a company to run its own product line such as Nova Craft’s TuffStuff? Or does the success lie in the hands of manufacturers selling their patented composites such as Esquif’s T-Formex? Looking at the facts we can see that the average retail price of a TuffStuff canoe is $2,400 CAD, [7] a difference of about $390 more than the past Royalex prices. For the average canoe buyer, the price difference will most likely not be affected as the average recreational spending per year is $4,412 couples without children [13] or $5,984 for couples with children. [12] By 2015 Esquif had secured the funds to begin manufacturing, per Canoeroots Magazine [6] The research and development of T-Formex required some additional time after 2014 and numerous resources are required to begin the production of T-Formex. Since the initial announcement in 2014, it was unclear the business model Esquif would use as they approached the manufacturing of T-Formex. Esquif brought it to the attention of Canoeroots that they intend to operate a sales branch for the sole purpose of T-Formex and selling the composite to other canoe manufacturers. [6] This could perhaps change the industry as some large manufacturers have dropped their original whitewater canoe lines after the demise of Royalex such as Swift Canoe & Kayak. [14] Esquif also plans to manufacture their own canoes using the composite as part of their business model. [6] Nova Craft appears to only to use their TuffStuff composite as part of their product line of canoes.

Portaging Rapids
For now we’ll be portaging my fibreglass boat.

References

  1. Chaney, R. (2014, 01 23). Canoe-makers losing key material for moulding boats. Retrieved from Missoulian: missoulian.com
  2. ESQUIF. (1995). Canadian Patent Database Patent No. CA 215148.
  3. Government of Canada. (2015, 12 17). Canadian Trademark Details 1669788. Retrieved from Canadian Trademarks Database: www.ic.gc.ca
    Government of Canada. (2006, 01 31). Canadian Trademark Details 1251291. Retrieved from Canadian Trademarks Database: www.ic.gc.ca
  4. John. (2015, 02 28). The Evolution of TuffStuff for Canoes Part 2. Retrieved 04 2017, from Nova Craft Canoe: www.novacraft.com
  5. Kavanaugh, C. (2014, 02 26). Canoe thermoformers scramble for Royalex replacement. Retrieved 04 2017, from Plastics News: www.plasticsnews.com
  6. Macgregor, S. (2015, 05 04). Esquif Canoes is Back In Business. Retrieved from Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media: www.rapidmedia.com
  7. MEC. (2017). Nova Craft Prospector 15 TuffStuff Canoe. Retrieved 04 2017, from MEC: www.mec.ca
  8. Murnahan, E. B., & Tresino, J. J. (2014, 02 20). European Patent Office Patent No. WO2014028481 A1.
  9. Nova Craft. (n.d.). The Nova Craft Canoe Story. Retrieved 04 2017, from Nova Craft Canoe: www.novacraft.com
  10. Pyette, K. (2014, 05 06). Royalex Crisis, Solved? (Exclusive interview). Retrieved from Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media: www.rapidmedia.com
  11. Rosco. (2010, 11 20). Royalex (RX), Materials & Manufacturing. Retrieved 04 2017, from Rosco Canoes & Kayaks: www.roscocanoes.com.au
  12. Stats Canada. (2015). Average household expenditures, by household type (Couples with children). Retrieved from Statistics Canada: www.statcan.gc.ca
  13. Stats Canada. (2015). Average household expenditures, by household type (Couples without children). Retrieved from Statistics Canada: www.statcan.gc.ca
  14. Swift. (2015). Canoe Laminates. Retrieved from Swift Canoe & Kayak: www.swiftcanoe.com
  15. Wilderness Supply. (2017). Choosing a Canoe: Materials. Retrieved 04 2017, from Wilderness Supply: www.wildernesssupply.ca

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