Palm factory

I had mentioned on more than one occasion how much I enjoyed one of the club’s most recent acquisitions – a Dagger KATANA 9.7.  So much so that, after a few paddles, I ordered one for myself.  Stock of these boats had run pretty low, so I had to wait for mine, and Jeff at Engage Watersports kept me fully informed of progress as I awaited delivery in mid August and I picked up the boat from Engage shortly after, still in its Palm Packaging.  I had noticed, when paddling the club Katana, that the ride was a little light at the front and perhaps a retrim was necessary – so I read the instructions and set about doing so.  And then I hit a few snags.

I’m not prepared to go into details here, but should you purchase one of these boats for yourself (ergo outfitting) I may be able to offer some assistance.  I spoke to John Dilley, Operations Manager at Palm whose foremost concern was getting my boat on the water, outfitted to my liking, but, after several e-mails with illustrative photo’s and having tried out several suggestions at the behest of Palm, it wasn’t working.  I was offered a complete new seat assembly or the option to take it back to Palm and have it all done by one of their supervisors.  I chose the latter – I didn’t want to try anything out and still be where I started several hours later.  An agreeable appointment was made and I duly went to the factory with the boat.

Palm tell me they’ve sold hundreds of these boats without any notable problems, and I suspect that some of the issues I encountered would not have been a problem for many people.

John was busy checking a container consignment but broke to ensure I got a coffee and was able to wait a few minutes.  Shortly after he arranged for my boat to have a new outfitting installed by one of their supervisors and my tour of the plant commenced.

Palm make a number of Dagger models here in the U.K. from moulds supplied by the Dagger brands U.S. parent company.  As well as boats they manufacture blocks for artificial whitewater courses and, between them, these keep the oven in full employment, each cycle taking around 26 mins.  A set of blocks was just being taken over to the cooling bay and a boat going in whilst I was there.  Interestingly, the mould was covered with twisted sheet metal vanes – these will assist with uniform heating and cooling of the product, an essential part of the process.  Whilst in the oven the mould will be rotated horizontally and twisted vertically.  Time did not afford an opportunity to see a new born boat broken out of the mould.

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The oven (on a vertical rotation)

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WW course blocks over cooling fans

Moving around to the Sewing shop, I saw a number of garments in for repair.  Palm, and 2 other manufacturers of similar equipment, have formed a coalition and have their own Vietnamese plant to manufacture a lot of their clothing.  This ensures better control over productivity and quality by avoiding sub contractors  and ensures their employees enjoy better conditions than many of the sweatshop practices we often hear about.  I got a few tips worth noting from my host regarding repairs (and these may apply equally to other manufacturers):

1) Always phone PALM before attempting any repair.  They will advise if what you propose is acceptable or is likely to harm the integrity of the product.

2) Should you ‘patch’ a leak or tear with something, let PALM know what it is.

Doing this may save you the expense of having to have a complete panel replaced.  I saw a number of drysuits on the rack with nondescript patching on various pinholes and with no indication of what was used, leaving Palm with little option other than to replace a complete panel, as certain adhesives can have an adverse affect on the bonding of laminated fabrics.

Next we moved on to parts manufacture.  I had wrongly assumed that seat parts would have been sub contracted, but no, Palm make many of their fittings on site from sheet material in a vacuum formed process.  The base material is supplied in sheet form and softened in a small oven.  Once the correct temperature is reached a vacuum draws the material down onto the mould allowing complex shapes to be made in one step.  Small amounts of flash are removed and the completed part stocked ready for use.  Palm keep a small stock, but do not operate a ‘just in time’ process as far as I could see.

By now my boat was done.  Much quicker than I would have done it and probably without the cussing.  I was shown the seat in its fully forward position, the leg lifter sitting squarely on the spine and an adjuster working perfectly.  John noted I had a camera with me so a quick rerun allowed me to take the few snaps featured here.  But there was one surprise to come.

Flaming a new boat

As I said earlier time did not permit seeing a new boat being broken out of the mould, but I’d sort of assumed that would come out pretty much finished.  However, it does not come out in the nice shiny condition you see your new boat in at the showroom.  This is achieved with a blow gun that flames the boat, just putting that nice shine on the surface – but it’s not just for cosmetics!  This process can reveal small blowholes and other faults that might not be visible on the unfinished product.  But it needs a skilled hand – too little heat and you won’t get the finish, too much heat and the boat gets recycled!

My boat was loaded into the car and I got a complimentary tee shirt and baseball cap for my troubles.  Some might have expected more, but I was more than happy with that and the tour – I generally find an experience to be more memorable than a trinket!

Now to get the boat wet and hope it lives up to my expectations – see you on the water soon.

John Norris

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