Behind the Glass – S2E03 – Constructing Our Oversized Hard-tops

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Behind the Glass – S2E03 – Constructing Our Oversized Hard-tops

In this episode we are building one of the staple items of a Sportsman, the oversized hard-top. We will take a deep dive into the manufacturing process and see how we vacuum infuse our beautiful hard-tops.

January 4, 2023
Behind The Glass - Season 2
Cover image for the post Behind the Glass – S2E03 – Constructing Our Oversized Hard-tops

An area of our plant that we have yet to visit is our hardtop lamination and hardtop rigging areas. So let's take a deep dive on this episode of Behind the Glass.

Design, function, and comfort are all key elements in a well-thought-out hard top. Modern hardtops provide much more than shade and have become iconic features of our boats. At the core, hard tops provide shade and protection from the elements. They are a key design feature that gives a center console an iconic look. Special care is given during the designing and planning to accommodate many comfort and safety features. The hardtop is the perfect mounting spot for the anchor light and navigation lights because it is the highest point on the boat. Other convenience lights like built-in spreaders and cockpit lighting are also accounted for. In addition to lights, modern electronics and joystick systems require antennas that will be mounted on the top, as well as optional equipment like radars. Wrapping around the back, additional rod holders and support are also typically seen, depending on the size of the top. The rear legs are added to the larger models for additional structural support. These rear supports lock in the top in six spots and stops any movement, even in the roughest conditions. For those looking to elevate their visibility, we have a wide offering of half towers with second stations. This option swaps out the top for a different top that features a sunroof-style sliding door and an electronics pod.

On this pod, we mount electronics and duplicate controls from the main helm. New technology in steering and other advancements in electrical systems has made this possible. The hardtop construction method is two fiberglass parts joined together to allow the top and the bottom to have a finished gel coat surface. Once completed, the two parts are bonded together using a bonding putty. This manufacturing process allows for strategically designed cavities inside the hard top. These cavities will be used as storage and to run wires inside the top. Now that we understand what we're building let's look at the manufacturing steps.

The two half molds are first sprayed with a gel coat. The mold corresponding to the top will be white, and the mold corresponding to the underside will receive a gel coat that matches the boat's color scheme. This is how we achieve the matching underside color. Next comes the equivalent of a skin coat layer. This layer is what ensures proper cosmetics and supports the gelcoat layer. This is followed by a layer of coring material that has been precisely cut in our CNC room. Each top has a design kit of core that gives support and accounts for additional options like outriggers. Following this layer is a bulk layer of fiberglass to encapsulate and strengthen the top.

template marking.

As we have seen, the next steps are all prep steps for Infusion. Starting with adding the necessary flow media that allows the resin to flow through the part properly. Next comes a complex network of tubes meticulously engineered for each top. This will ensure even flow throughout the entire part. To get the proper vacuum on the part, sealant tape is applied to the perimeter of the mold. This is followed by the bag. The bag is carefully sealed using sealant tape all the way around. The vacuum and resin ports are also carefully routed through the bag and sealed with additional sealant tape. The part is put under a vacuum to check for any leaks. Once satisfied, the resin ports are open, and the part begins to get infused. This process will take between 35 to 45 minutes. The two parts will be set aside to cure; once cured, it's time to join the two halves. The process first removes the bag and flow media from the parts. Next, to ensure good adhesion, the edges where the two parts will be joined are sanded and cleaned off.

Once sanding is complete, a predetermined amount of bonding putty and methyl methacrylate will be applied in specific areas to the bottom half of the hardtop to join the two parts. Once applied, it will be moved to an area where a lift will be used to raise the top portion, flip it and lower it down to join the bottom portion of the top. Special alignment pins that are built into the mold are used to align the two halves for a perfect uniform edge precisely. Once aligned, the parts are secured it will begin to cure. Once the part is finished curing, it will be removed from the mold carefully and put on a dolly to await final trimming. Special templates called splashes are used to mark precise holes for installation spots for components. These include speakers, additional storage lights, and more. At this time, there will also be a final trim of the edge leaving behind raw fiberglass that will need to be finished off.

template marking.

The top is rolled into our finishing department, where they will sand the edge smooth and uniform. They will follow this with gel coat for a seamless look. The fabrication part of the top is now complete; next is time to add components and wiring. In the top rigging sub-assembly, a team member will rig up all of the components required to complete a boat order. A specified kit of parts arrives at the rigging station with all the components specified by the order. The technician will install and pre-wire as much as possible in preparation for installing the top on the frame. If you remember from our metal fabrication episode, we build and powder coat all our tops in-house. The corresponding frame is delivered, and the now fully rigged fiberglass shell is test fitted on the frame. The technician will then fish any wires through the pre-designed routes completing any final connections. The hardtop and frame meet up with the console to be assembled on the jig alignment cart, as we saw last season in the center console episode.

template marking.

Modern hardtops provide so much more than just shade. Advancements in manufacturing and design pack these tops with features and amenities. This is part of our SportTech® Advanced Fabrication Process. This process is part of our SportTech® Advanced Fabrication Process. This proprietary combination of processes and materials yields the best result each step of the way and has been thoroughly tested for durability, longevity, and finish. All Sportsman Boats features a 100% composite construction with zero wood, NMMA certification, and a 10-year hull limited warranty.