You can imagine how enthusiastic the Sitons team were when asked to visit one of the biggest kayak manufacturing units in Europe. Palm Equipment pump out some serious kit – all of it highly regarded. Getting the opportunity to peruse new toys and watch how kayaks are built was something not to be missed.
Sitons ventured into deepest darkest Somerset, on a chilly but bright sunny day, to get the full guided tour from Palm Equipment’s marketing manager Paul Robertson.
Going the distance
The journey to Palm HQ started early doors and as the sun rose over the muddy waters of the Bristol Channel we neared our destination. Travelling along the M5 from Sitons HQ we didn’t quite know what to expect. The plastic manufacturing industry is huge and its methods by no means secret. Search online and you’ll be presented with a variety of resources helping you understand the process.
Even with rotational moulding information to hand, what actually goes on in some of the world’s most successful kayaking houses is not widely publicised. Other than a bit blurb on Palm’s website, there’s not really a great deal out there.
The Palm Equipment facility looks proper top drawer. A larger square (ish) building on an industrial estate with various logos adorning its facia lets us know we’d arrived. Watersports brands sometimes have the image of cottage industry businesses but not Palm Equipment. The scene was a bustle of swarming bees all preparing for the busy day ahead.
We were greeted by senior sales rep Tim Thomas who’s been in the kayaking game for many years. He led us through into the inner sanctum of Palm where Paul Robertson – marketing manager for the brand – welcomed us cheerily.
After having a brief discussion about the kayaking industry, how the 2013 season had been (so far) and what was predicted for next year, we were guided into the heart of the building where all the serious work takes place.
The first thing that strikes you is the heat. The level of the inferno was stifling to say the least. Machinery humming and the shift crew carrying out their duties, a raised platform with two spinning moulds and a large ‘oven’ at the far end completed the look.
Paul explained a little about the plastic compound used in the process and described how it was specifically chosen for Palm products. This ‘additive’ is the main material used and is tough, hard wearing and resilient – it has to be when you think of the abuse some boats are subjected to.
Super gleaming aluminium moulds are what the plastic compound wraps itself around during the heating process where temperatures literally soar. Watching as a smouldering template emerged from the cooker it became apparent just how much heat needs to be generated to produce a boat.
Once the mould and plastic has been thoroughly baked it’s then transferred to a spinning gyroscope and undergoes the rotational process. By turning the mould, plastic sticks to all parts of the kayak shape. Only by completing this multi direction spin cycle can you be sure of having a bump/lump/bubble free premium product.
The still malleable hull shape is then removed from its aluminium casing and placed on a cooling rack to harden. A few little trim jobs are performed before the plastic is left to set but generally it breathes for a while.
Fixtures and fittings
Palm takes pride in the quality of fixtures, fittings and levels of finish with each product. After the initial heating and cooling process all threads (for attaching seats and other pimping paraphernalia) are sunk into the still soft hull. As the plastic cools brass inserts become embedded ensuring there’s minimum risk of them pulling out. Graphics and logos are also sunk into the skin ensuring the final boat looks proper pucka – it’s all in the details. Trimming and ‘shining’ (if needed) all takes place after the plastic has hardened and then it’s off to the racks, ready to be shipped out and dropped in at your local spot.
Back in the main production room; any mould that’s been used is cleaned by air gun straight away. This ensures no debris can ‘infect’ future mouldings and keeps the level of quality and finish high.
Having walked through the whole process, from start to finish, Paul then took us to the showroom where there were a number of boats on display in various states of ‘undress’ – some as naked hulls and some with high end seats and fittings attached. We did get the guided tour around the apparel section of Palm HQ as well, but that’s a story for another day.
Having not had the privilege of watching kayaks be manufactured before it was interesting to note just how much work goes into the process. Palm’s attention to detail, level of finish and commitment to producing the best quality gear is second to none. The opportunity to have a mooch round the factory gave an even higher regard to the work force and processes that deliver these top drawer products every day.
Check out Palm Equipment’s website for more on all of their kayaking gear.