Technology and Innovation in the Production of Lightweight Kayaks

July 20, 2020

Over the past 49 years, Eddyline Kayaks has been a leader in design and manufacturing innovation. Tirelessly innovating throughout the life of the company, we have been able to bring the technology of plastic kayaks to a new level of performance. 

Over the past 49 years, Eddyline Kayaks has been a leader in design and manufacturing innovation. Tirelessly innovating throughout the life of the company, we have been able to bring the technology of plastic kayaks to a new level of performance. While other manufacturers focused on polyethylene kayaks, which are inexpensive and impact resistant but heavy and prone to abrasion and distortion, we continued to look for superior materials and production processes. In 1995, we found the answer with Carbonlite 2000 and thermoforming technology. These innovations were game changers, allowing us to produce a lightweight kayak that’s uniquely durable. Better yet, they allowed us to honor our commitment to manufacturing in a responsible manner. 

The Material

Since 1995, Eddyline Kayaks has used Carbonlite 2000, which looks and performs like fiberglass. With clear advantages over other plastics, Carbonlite 2000 offers dimensional stability and increased stiffness, higher heat distortion temperatures, easy repairs, superior UV resistance and lighter weights. More simply, this material is more durable and easier to repair, looks great, and makes for a lightweight kayak. Tested over time in a variety of kayak applications, it has proven to stand up to the elements in the hands of many paddlers, liveries, and tour operators.

Unlike many polyethylene kayaks, our Carbonlite 2000 kayaks are thermoformed rather than rotomolded. Using thermoforming in the production of lightweight kayaks requires an additional, and crucial, step in preparing the material. In rotomolding, resin pellets are pulverized into a powder which is added to a two-part mold that is closed and tumbled in an oven until the powder melts, coating the inside of the mold. Thermoforming requires us to first form a flat sheet of material, that is the appropriate size and thickness, from the resin pellets. This additional step allows us to create a sheet made up of two or three layers of compatible materials that are fused into a single layer of even thickness. A typical sheet consists of an acrylic layer that offers UV resistance and a glossy exterior, sometimes followed by a second layer for a special aesthetic effect, such as a metallic or pearlescent look, and a third “muscle layer” that provides the strength and durability.

The Thermoforming Process

Unlike fiberglass or rotomolded kayaks, thermoformed kayaks are formed over a mold rather than inside of one. There are two big advantages to this process. For starters, with a female mold, the mold determines the surface quality of the kayak. With our thermoforming process and Carbonlite 2000 material, the surface quality is already in the sheet of material and our job is simply to preserve it throughout the manufacturing. More importantly, a male mold will bring the greatest material thickness to the bottom of the hull where the most wear occurs.

 During the molding process, a sheet of material is clamped into a frame that holds it like a piece of glass in a window frame. The frame moves into an oven that heats the sheet to temperatures between 350 and 400 degrees, making the sheet rubbery. The frame then moves out of the oven to a position over a mold. The mold moves into the sheet until the edge seals against the hot material and a vacuum is applied to the mold sucking the material down around the mold and into any fine detail on the mold. We then let the material cool and a kayak part is born. The part is ready after some trimming, rigging, assembly and detailing.

Why is thermoforming a game changer? Well, combined with our Carbonlite 2000 material, it offers a level of quality comparable to fiberglass, both in appearance and performance, but at a lower cost. Advances in thermoforming technology and the plastics used, like our Carbonlite 2000, have made it possible to produce a lightweight kayak that is strong, easily repairable and affordable. Outer surfaces are harder than other plastics and gel coatings, providing better abrasion and UV resistance and no fuzz up. Advances in adhesives have also made the assembly of a variety of plastic parts with high structural integrity possible. These adhesives don’t work well with polyethylene, but they are very well suited to more expensive plastics, like Carbonlite 2000, used in the manufacturing of thermoformed kayaks.

Fiberglass kayaks will probably have the edge for a while when it comes to overall longevity as will polyethylene in the extreme high impact world of white water. However, lightweight kayaks produced using thermoform technology and materials offer impressive value and performance that will, with reasonable care, provide many years of pleasurable use.

The future is bright too. Since Eddyline Kayaks introduced its first lightweight kayaks made using thermoform technology in 1996, several companies have followed suit. We’ll continue to see advances and innovation in this technology, lowering manufacturing costs and improving performance. Most importantly, unused material in this process is 100% recyclable. As more companies join us in the production of lightweight kayaks made using thermoform technology, we’ll continue to see a reduction of production waste and minimize the amount of material hitting our landfills.