Linssen Yachts: crafting in steel
Jake Kavanagh takes a close-up look at the Dutch steel displacement boat builder Linssen Yachts.
May 4, 2012
Linssen Yachts continues to dominate the steel displacement boat-building sector in Holland, producing high-quality boats in the 9-15m size range. The family-run company has been building motorboats since the early 50s, and has recently upgraded its factory to streamline production.
The history of Linssen
Linssen is a family-owned business founded by Jac Linssen Snr in 1949 in Maasbracht, a small Dutch town in the Meuse valley between Belgium and Germany. Back then, Maasbracht was a major harbour with a huge amount of work available from the scores of war-damaged ships.
Linssen, a trained shipwright, soon diversified into making ships wheels and teak pilot houses, and earned himself a reputation for high quality carpentry. His company combined the two skills of metalwork and woodwork, and began making steel workboats and tenders to supplement their ship repair business.
From there, they began to make leisure craft, basing their designs on the sturdy ‘vlet’ boats which were ideally suited to inland cruising. The designs were developed, with the addition of wooden wheelhouses and a luxurious finish for the time, and it wasn’t long before production boatbuilding began under the name ‘Scheepswerf en Houtindustrie St Josef Jac Linssen.’
In the 1970s, Jos Linssen took over from his father, and changed the name to a more memorable ‘Linssen Yachts BV.’ He concentrated totally on producing luxury steel motor yachts, and was joined by his brothers Harry, Jan and Peter. In the mid-70’s, Jos Linssen launched the first series of Sturdy models based on a new generation of vletten, and soon established his niche in the 8-15metre displacement motorboat range which the company still dominates today.
The Linssen SL series, and the SE and SX series all appeared in the 1980s, and in 1995 another benchmark was reached with the Dutch Sturdy designs, developed with the late Dick Leferber. Production continued until superseded by the Grand Sturdy series in 2005, the name for which the company is probably now best known. Linssen's latest upgrade was launched at the 2011 Dusseldorf boatshow with the new Grand Sturdy Mk III series, a gentle massaging of the hugely popular MkII design.
The Linssen factory
Take a tour of the Linssen factory, something that is actively encouraged by the company, and you’ll appreciate just how well these boats are put together. After all, the Dutch pioneered the building leisure craft in steel, and were the first country to perfect the art of rolling steel plates into gentle curves.
The current range of displacement steel motor yachts starts with an 8.20mm (25ft 9in) SCF (saloon cockpit fusion) and finishes with the 14.70m (50ft 0in) 500 Variotop Mk III. There are three design series, the Range Cruiser, the Grand Sturdy 9s, and the Grand Sturdy Mark III. Prices start at €149,800 and peak around €1,262,600, inclusive of Dutch VAT at 19 per cent.
Linssen has deliberately stayed in the mid-range sector with their 12-model line-up, despite other European builders trending towards increasingly bigger boats. It has also kept its production in Holland, rather than contracting out to lower-wage countries in Eastern Europe. Instead, the company has decreased the wages bill by investing several million Euros of its own money in a highly efficient moving production line.
Christened ‘Logicam’ (‘Logistics’ and ‘Computer Aided Manufacture’) the line has been a huge success. They certainly had the room. Linssen’s yard covers 26,500sq m, with 11,400sq m in halls and the rest as hard standing. In the middle of the yard is a private dock, with some 30 pontoon berths and all-year access to the river Meuse.
It was the advent of the ‘9’ series that spurred on the changes. The first two models were introduced in 2004 as a natural progression from an already successful range of low maintenance and economic ‘Sturdy’ displacement motor yachts.
The new 9 series had been engineered for even better stability, good sea-keeping and ease of manoeuvre. With luxurious wooden interiors, wide decks and a high specification fit-out, they were an instant hit. The compact 29.9AC (the designation standing for 29ft hull length, 9 series and Aft Cabin) quickly became a best seller. The problem was that demand was so strong Linssen couldn’t build them fast enough, a situation every boat builder must dream about.
The answer was to bring in the long awaited Logicam production line. It would mean a €3-million investment, but the time seemed right. The idea is that the boats are moved along a railed production line to distinct assembly stations, a process already used by some manufacturers such as Beneteau and Bavaria. Linssen was the first to use it for steel production boats.
There are risks, of course, such as a lack of orders forcing the production line to a halt, or a supplier failing to deliver on time, but so far everything has run according to plan.
The savings in man hours alone have helped to make the new boats excellent value when compared against a well maintained second-hand example, persuading people to go the extra expense and have their own, brand new boat built to order.
The actual build process has two distinct parts, the first part of which is referred to as ‘Metalcoat.’ This deals with the building of the bare hull and superstructure, along with its patented internal engine wiring tray, known as the Floor Integrated System (FIS). Logicam comes into its own at the fit-out stage.
The emphasis is always on efficiency, which has the knock-on effect of producing a better boat. Processes are refined so workers don’t waste time correcting avoidable defects.
A good example of this philosophy starts with the delivery of the steel. Linssen only accepts the flattest sheets, meaning that less filler is required to make the boats fair prior to spraying, so less labour is needed. The company sends sheets back if they are not absolutely perfect.
The ST37 grade steel supplied by Corus in 4mm, 5mm and 6mm thicknesses is delivered after a shot-blasting process to make it scrupulously clean, as this speeds up the welding process.
The sheets are cut into the necessary plates using a CNC plasma cutter, with the machine making small components from waste left over from the first pass. If you rummage in the scrap bin, you won’t find a single piece more than a few centimetres across.
The boats are built in batches of four of the same type to a strict timetable. This gives 2x2 opportunities to make either a Sedan model, or an AC (aft cabin) version. The hulls are mounted on rail-guided trolleys which are gently pushed sideways by a hydraulic ram to the next stage of production. The gantries are also on wheels, and move with them, saving a lot of time in repositioning the necessary catwalks around the boat.
“From the outset, it’s very important that the customer tells us exactly what they want in terms of options,’ Linssens salemanager explained. ‘The necessary holes in the hull are all cut at this primary stage, so they get the best corrosion protection from the painting process. Cutting extra holes later will compromise the coating, on which we offer a three-year guarantee. Customers have to be decisive when they place their order, and we help them by giving deadlines!’
Pre-assembled items such as the bathing platform (made from rustproof stainless steel as it is most likely to get damaged when docking) are attached quite early in the process, along with the stubs for the guardrails. These are precisely measured on a jig, allowing the rails themselves to be glued into place once the hull has been painted. This means the stainless steel doesn’t have to be welded, which can discolour, and the rails are also very easy to replace if they get damaged.
The frames and stringers are spot welded on the inside to reduce heat warping, and the superstructures are built on a jig nearby. The two are then joined together before the hull shell is taken to the grit blasting shop for abrading with a G20 grade mineral-based grit. The grit can be cleaned and reused several times before being discarded, which makes another useful cost-saving.
Linssen claims to be the only Dutch builder to have its own on-site grit-blasting booth, and the result is the complete removal of any grease or sharp edges prior to painting.
The builder describes its coating process as ‘almost clinical’ compared with other yards. A staggering 3km of heating ducts line the walls, and also run under the mirror smooth concrete floors. This way, the hulls are held above ambient temperature, rather like being in a large oven which never cools. Apart from eliminating moisture and allowing the paint to cure in ideal conditions, it also saves energy.
Several layers of International’s two-pack spray paint are built up, with any fine fairing done in between. Once the hulls have been painted, the guardrails are glued to the stubs, and the teak deck laid before the boat is finally ready to join the Logicam part of the process.
The fully painted hull is inserted into the beginning of the production line. From here – once a week – it is pushed sideways by hydraulics from one workstation to the next. Each trolley nudges its neighbour along, with the wheels running on raised tracks on the floor. It takes very little effort to move the boats, so only one hydraulic ram is needed in each hall.
Every boat, irrespective of its type, stays at each workstation for the same amount of time, with the work usually being done by just one employee. This is where the logistics come in. The boats are still being built in similar batches of four, so all the components needed are supplied ‘on demand’ as the boats reach each station. This could mean anything from a complete piece of preassembled furniture to just a handful of fastenings. But it all has to be there, ready to go, or the whole system will fall down.
‘With the old system, we could have a whole years-worth of engines and other bits being stored for months on end,’ Sales engineer Randolph Paes said. ‘Now we take delivery of equipment as we need it. All the components are assembled pre-wired and tested, and because we know exactly how much cabling or ducting is required, there is minimal waste.’
Helping the engine installation is Linssen’s patented FIS ducting system, an ingenious under-floor framework which keeps the pipes and cables clear well clear of the bilges and away from frost and vibration , but still easily accessible.
‘Failures often happen at breaks in cables, or joints in pipes, but with the FIS we keep these junctions to an absolute minimum, and so make a more reliable installation,’ Randolph said. ’It’s also easy to expand the systems in the future.’
In a 12-week cycle, boats in the Logicam system start with the fitting out of the engine room. This is a big task, so continues into week two, along with parts of the exterior finish. The next few weeks are taken up with the internal panelling, starting with the front end of the boat, moving to the aft end and then concentrating on the middle.
Feeding this build process is the Broebeck CNC machine in the nearby woodworking shop. It takes sheets of plywood from its store and cuts them precisely, allowing the staff to stack large trolleys with four sets of panels, bulkheads and furnishings for each of the boats moving through the logicam line. These trolleys are parked in clearly defined areas at each workstation precisely when needed.
The last month concentrates on the final assembly of the windows, toilet compartments, lighting, doors, drawers and furnishings, and once completed, the boat is picked up on its trolley, and moved to the dock for proving trials. The boats move along one station to fill the gap, and a new shell introduced at the start.
Quantity can boost quality
‘Volume production actually improves quality, but also represents great value to the customer,’ Peter Linssen explained. ‘For example, most steel boats have a steel chain locker, which quickly gets damaged and rusts. We have developed an enclosed plastic one which drains overboard, purely because we can justify the high expense of injection- moulding tooling.’
The workers also become highly skilled by repeating the same installations at the same workstations, but there is still plenty of room for innovation, largely thanks to feedback from customers and charter companies throughout Europe. Take the noise suppression systems, for example. Linssen make their own soundproofed floorboard by sandwiching cork between two layers of thick plywood.
They have also developed sealed boxes of silver sand directly above the propellers, likening the effect to ‘firing a bullet at a sandbag, rather than at a steel plate.’ The entire engine room is made soundproof by the strategic use of Silomer foam strips under the floorboards, whilst the inside of the hull is lined in silver-backed rockwool to eliminate condensation and deaden resonance.
‘We only use the best quality fittings, too,’ Peter explained. ‘If a component fails, then the customer thinks the whole boat has failed. That’s why we only use companies that have highly reliable products with international customer support.’
As such, they specify Raymarine as the electronics suppliers, converting clients who may be used to other brands by showing them the neatness and connectivity of the system.
‘We encourage clients to visit the factory and see their boats being built,’ said Yvonne Linssen. ‘They can see how all the systems are routed, and we even supply photographs of their boat for future reference if they can’t make a stage in person.’
Because all the boats run at displacement speeds, Linssen only need to offer a limited choice of engines, and specify either Vetus or Volvo Penta. However, the ‘9’ series have been carefully designed to keep all the weight dead centre, with the entire drive train perfectly matched via Aramatech propellers and shafts. With a displacement hull, excessive horsepower is wasted, so why have it? As such, Linssens are known for their low running costs.
The quality fit-out extends to every aspect of the boats, which makes them more expensive than their rivals, but also provides a strong resale value. Hatches come from Gebo, the electrics from Mastervolt, the pumps and toilets from Jabsco, anodes from MG Duff, and the stylish LED lights from Cantalupi. These products may not be the cheapest, but as far as Linssen are concerned, they are amongst the most dependable.
Linssen’s recession-busting philosophy is working well, with the added advantage of a guaranteed delivery time and fixed costs. This makes the decision to buy a new boat, as opposed to a tidy second-hand boat, even more attractive. But if you still can’t afford a new one, then Linssen also has its own specialised brokerage on site for pre-loved boats. They’ll even refit them for you on site.
There is no doubt that Linssen has no qualms about the future, and is continuing to invest in volume production to produce high quality yachts at competitive prices. It’s a formula that certainly seems to be working. For more details see Linssen Yachts.
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