Stingray Powerboats is based in America's deep south well away from any metropolis in a mostly
farming-oriented community. But don't let its remoteness from big business, or indeed its
staff's Carolina drawl, fool you. This is definitely no 'Hicksville' operation...
Based in Hartsville, South Carolina, Stingray Powerboats boasts one of the most advanced
boatbuilding operations in the business. The 150-employee company is currently one of the
largest American independent builders. Indeed. Stingray claims that a recent survey commissioned
for the NMMA puts it as the 12th biggest motorboat brand in the US market between 14-50ft
(4.3-l 5 .2m), which is no mean feat when you consider just how many well-known brands it is up
There are 22 Stingray models across an 18-24ft (5.5-7.3m) range, using around six or seven
basic hull mouldings. Apart from a small 18ft (5.5m) outboard-powered model, all are sterndrive
boats, using both MerCruiser and Volvo Penta powertrains. The current range includes bowriders
and deckboats, cuddy-cabined boats and sportscruisers. All models are trailerable.
Stingray trades on a solid reputation for good performance, excellent handling and an enviable
overall build quality. Prices tend to be pitched at the volume end of the market - on average,
say, somewhere between market leaders Bayliner and Sea Ray.
Production volumes at Stingray are currently in the region of 3,000 boats a year, which
translates to an 'easy' 65 boats per week using just one day-shift. That's no where near the
volume produced by Bayliner or Sea Ray, but it is nevertheless fairly impressive.
Having built up its business slowly, but surely, over the
past 20 years, Stingray has recently started to hit the plane and its growth figures have begun
to register a quantum leap. The past two to three years have seen annual improvements over 30
percent. The company's most recent turnover figure was just over US$33 million. Next year the
forecast is for that to jump to nearer US$40 million. When asked on what basis that forecast
was made, Stingray founder and president Al Fink gave IBI a forthright assessment.
"We've managed 30-plus percent growth for the past two or three years by taking
market share from our competitors. And I'm certain that we can do it again," he declares
confidently. "Our market share in the US grew 34.9 percent for calendar '97."
USE OF TECHNOLOGY
If Stingray's bare figures look good its use of technology is simply staggering. Its
Hartsville facility must be one of the most automated of any 'conventional' GRP boatbuilder in
the USA. There are no production lines at Stingray, because lines, says Al Fink, run at the
slowest speed. "We build in stages, that way big and small boats can be built side by side.
Stuff only moves when ready."
Equally, an advanced computer system integrates every facet of the company's business -
driving things along, but at the same time remaining flexible to production necessities.
That technology plays a major role in the production process is most evident in the moulding
shop, a vast long hall with 47 work bays along each side. These are all capable of accommodating
either a hull or deck mould, or both. An extensive overhead hoist and track network enables
moulds and mouldings to be moved automatically from station to station.
Monitored by a central control room located on a mezzanine floor mid-way along the moulding shop
wall, the computer always knows where everything is and who is working on what job.
Moreover, the computer controls all the materials that go into each and every moulding.
Fiberglass cloths and cores - Coremat. Klegecel and Trevira to name but a few - are pre-cut
precisely and delivered to each station. Gelcoat and resin guns are continuously monitored by
Stingray uses relatively environmentally-friendly resins - low styrene, low VOCs - and uses
'Flow-Coater' guns that further reduce VOC emissions. According to Al Fink, the company has
reduced ozone-damaging emissions by over 55 percent in recent years.
Apart from the smallest 18ft (5.5m) and 19ft (5.8m) models, which have marine ply stringers
and cockpit-soles, Stingrays use plenty of interior mouldings, including GRP-moulded stringer
systems and cockpit/cabin soles. Cuddy-cabin models even benefit from two-piece mouldings that
include small sink units and locations for stoves and Porta-Potti chemical toilets.
Once ejected from its mould, every hull and deck is check weighed while being transported on
the hoist. That provides yet another check on quality. Mouldings are given the same serial
numbers from the outset and are 'matched' long before they meet up at the assembly stage.
The computer runs life here, says Fink. "Of course, we could build boats without it, but I
sure wouldn't want to. Our records, traceability and so on are fantastic. To revert to manual
data processing would be a nightmare." The system is constantly evolving and permeating
every area of the business.
Control is all to Fink. "Hell, it (the computer) will even call me at home if something
goes wrong. And if I'm away the system logs what's gone wrong and no-one can erase that record,
so it's there flagged for me when I get back. Anywhere in the world I can see what's happening
in the factory via my laptop and a satellite link. For example, I can check resin-tank levels or
get a flowrate check on individual resin guns. My computer gives me instant-access to records of
who did what and when, including full material batch analysis."
The computer can control catalyst and resin mixes precisely, and fine-tunes settings every
second. Before this system was implemented operatives were setting the guns once a day. The
computer will also monitor temperatures and is programmed to shut equipment down if things get
so hot that there is a risk of damage. This latter point has had a significant effect on
For example, preventative maintenance operations have been pretty much minimized. Now the
computer can keep tabs on apparatus constantly and give early warnings of serious wear. Prior
to computer monitoring, maintenance crews worked to a regular schedule, replacing components
before they ever got close to wearing out and causing a production problem. Now it is almost
a 'just-in-time' approach to maintenance. For example, air-compressors are monitored for their
current draw so that any fluctuation beyond a small percentage tolerance for more than a few
seconds flashes up a warning, sending someone to go off to check them.
This type of early-warning logic has been applied to all of areas within the company. For
example, the company's fleet of delivery trucks, which transport around 75 percent of US
-market boats, even benefits. Drivers carry infra-red heat sensors to periodically check wheels
and tyres - worn tyres, wrong pressures or dodgy wheel bearings all register higher heat
readings The driver doesn't need to even touch each wheel or tyre, but can check to see whether
closer examination is necessary from several paces away by simply pointing the sensor toward
each wheel. The sensors are a bit like TV remote-controls.
Al Fink's love of gadgets has prompted some interesting choices of production
machinery too. For example, the company has been a pioneer in the use of water-jet cutting
machines, which work by blasting an ultra-fine jet of water through a machine head at high
pressure. The process is clean, accurate and not really very wet, as water consumption is far
less than one would think.
Stingray boasts a number of large-bed CNC (computer numerically controlled) water-jet machines
which cut a wide range of different materials. These are used to trim stringer system and liner
mouldings cleanly and accurately and to cut out upholstery carpets and canopy/bimini fabrics,
the latter nested automatically and handled in multi-layer piles.
Technology also plays a major part in product development. A few years ago Stingray claims
to have pioneered the use of large three axis CNC mills and closed-cell high-density foams. It
is now in the throes of installing a five-axis machine. These mills are used to rout out
prototype profiles and also to create mould plugs once a design or modification has been
In the early days the mills were used to make quarter-scale models, but now whole boats can
be created or modified in no time at all. "We used to leave the machine overnight and come
back eagerly in the morning to see what we'd got," says Fink. "Now we know what we're
doing we don't mess around with scale models, we just get on with the real thing. It's so quick
Today a new plug for, say, a 2Oft (6m) model can be made by taking an existing plug for a
slightly smaller model, spraying it with a layer of quick-setting high-density foam and
re-machining the whole thing. A resin finish is then applied and fine-sanded.
For example, a new hull profile is very quickly assessed using this technique - an existing
boat (complete with sterndrive attached) is turned over and the bottom sprayed with foam. A new
bottom profile is then routed out. This can then be put in the water and tested, as the set foam
is strong enough to run on for a limited period. Indeed, the company's development team even
claims to have cut a profile one morning, tested the boat on the water before lunch, and then
recut the bottom before running again in the afternoon. Another claim is that one old 23-footer
(7m) has had at least 30 different hull profiles.
The Stingray reputation for excellent performance stems from good power-to-weight ratios and
clever design. For example, it has its own patented hull profile which it promotes as the
The idea uses Z--shaped strakes that perform like mini reverse chines, biting the water while
deflecting spray downwards. Stingray combines this with raceboat-style notched transoms which
allow engines to be mounted higher for less drag, enhanced fuel efficiency and better top
For product testing, dealer demonstrations and as a location for publicity photographs,
Stingray owns a 'Lake House' and foreshore. Capable of showing off the entire product line-up
in-water, it is located beside nearby Lake Robinson, a four-mile-long (6.5km) banana-shaped
expanse of freshwater made remarkable by an average annual water temperature of around 35°
C - a result of the nuclear powerstation at one end using it for cooling purposes. Stingray's
annual dealer and press meetings are held there over several days in July.
Stingray exports account for around 13-14 percent of sales (roughly US$4 million), a figure
which is said to have grown steadily over the past couple of years. Most business outside the US
is with Europe. The main markets there include the UK, Germany, France, Holland and Denmark.
Other areas will soon be targeted as more and more emphasis is placed on growth beyond the
Despite plans to grow its model range, Stingray sees itself primarily as a trailerboat
builder. Nevertheless, a soon-to-be-launched flagship 27ft (8.2m) sportscruiser is likely to
push trailering to the absolute limit.
Stingray has recently launched a web site and is now considering sending out catalogues on
CD-ROM with "everything on there" in response to all internet enquiries.
International Boat Industry Magazine