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May 14, 2018 On the record

Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding expands its market through innovation and diversification

Photo / David Clough Drew Lyman, president of Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Inc. in Thomaston, recently launched Anna, a 65-foot sailing yacht designed by Stephens Waring Yacht Design.

Drew Lyman is president of Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Inc. in Thomaston. He's cited innovation and diversification as key to keeping pace in an industry vulnerable to economic ups and downs. To that end, the company has invested in a computer numerical control (CNC) machine, plasma cutter and 3D printer and balances its boat-related operations with work outside the boating industry.

Lyman-Morse offers a range of specialties: Lyman-Morse Fabrication, providing metal fabrication for marine- and non-marine projects; Lyman-Morse Technologies, providing research, development and prototyping; and Wayfarer Marine, Camden, which offers marine services, moorings and rental slips, as well as a restaurant, the Rhumb Line. Overall, Lyman-Morse has 130 workers and it is on the lookout for more. In April, the company launched Anna, a 65-foot sailing yacht designed by Stephens Waring Yacht Design.

Mainebiz caught up with Lyman on a busy day. Here's the edited transcript:

Mainebiz: Your construction process involves modeling software for design fine-tunes, plus full-scale mockups. How did that translate with Anna?

Drew Lyman: 3D modeling attracts customers who want details figured out before the crew even gets to work. Everything's predetermined, so quality control is excellent, details are superb and it's efficient. That's a big part of why the owner came here. He wanted a wooden boat, but a modern-construction wooden boat.

MB: Are there examples of technology assists?

DL: We CNC-cut the compound curvatures of the transom, and precut the chain plate. We cut it once, install it, it's super-accurate and it cuts time off the build.

MB: Other efficiencies?

DL: We've restructured this yard a lot over the last few years, focusing heavily on budget and owner communication. There are a million components that need to be decided. If prices change, the owner needs to know beforehand. We developed an internal project management system to ensure the owner gets reports on changes so they can make that decision or not.

MB: How do employees adapt to these initiatives?

DL: Folks have to adapt to CNC-cut pieces and how to scarf that in, things like that. They have to ask whether a part would be better served cutting it on the machine instead of spending X number of hours cutting it.

MB: Other projects on tap?

DL: Service — sailboats, powerboats, painting and refit. For a 94-foot powerboat in for a refit, we cut off the top section and we're molding a composite hardtop and putting in new wood-veneer interior. We're looking at a couple of big refits and a couple of new builds.

MB: How do you make your fabrication service known to non-marine customers?

DL: Word of mouth, ads. The manager of the fabrication shop meets with architects and local businesses. A lot of Maine companies invest in technology, but not a lot in our world. So we're a boatbuilder, but we're really a manufacturer. If we don't invest in technology, we can't compete.

MB: How do you get new employees?

DL: We probably have one of the younger workforces. Part of that is engaging them. We're on the cutting edge, and we have many different types of projects. When you show a young person what they get to work on here or you show them the 3D modeling, the CNC, the marina — it sells itself. It's work but, at the same time, who else gets to build this level of yacht, jump over to a used boat to pull some hardware, then jump over to the marina to dock a boat? At other companies, you put your head down and just work on a widget.

MB: What's your forecast for market demand?

DL: It's a guessing game in this industry. A typical standard is that when the economy is doing poorly, new boat sales go away and everyone puts their money in their used boats. But we're diversified enough: Probably 60% of our work is service, and the metal fabrication side is busy. So trying to figure out our market from stock market fluctuations isn't a great test. But in terms of forecast, it looks really strong right now. We'll see.

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