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Decking out yachts with the “game-changing” Artec Leo 3D scanner

Challenge: Yacht decking developer TT Custom Marine was looking for a more efficient way of creating custom-fit synthetic decking with a premium wood look, but less need for maintenance.

Solution: Artec Leo, Artec Studio, Rhinoceros 3D

Result: Instead of measuring each client’s boat and creating a physical template for the fitting of synthetic decking, the firm now uses 3D scanning to build a virtual library of individual yacht models. This digitization drive has reduced its need to store inventory while further opening its workflow to customization and making decking production up to 75% faster.

Why Artec 3D? Thanks to Artec Leo’s built-in display and fully wireless functionality, the company is able to freely scan entire boats outdoors, without having to contend with cables or settle for low-quality scans in unfavorable lighting conditions.

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TT Custom Marine President Travis Tea 3D scanning a boat with Artec Leo

For many of us, the idea of buying a luxury yacht and sailing the world is something of a fantasy. Yet, even those fortunate enough to make this dream a reality often have to contend with unexpected challenges on top of upfront cost.

As well as problems with privacy and finding places to legally dock, many new boat owners cite issues around fitting basic amenities, and carrying out repairs. Due to constant exposure to UV rays, rain, and sea water, the decking of such yachts is an area that needs particularly close monitoring – especially if it’s made from common boat materials like teak wood.

Despite containing high levels of silica and oil, which lend it a natural waterproofing, teak can be very expensive to buy, and it still needs regular maintenance to prevent wear. In fact, cleaning wood decking is so vital to boat preservation that an entire industry has sprung up around it.

But if you think this makes sailing the world more expensive and a little less realistic, there’s no need to worry. TT Custom Marine offers a way of keeping the dream afloat.

Synthetic, but still teak-looking

To help small boat and yacht owners avoid these costly service bills, TT Custom Marine offers a range of synthetic decking and flooring products that don’t require maintenance.

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A boat fitted with TT Custom Marine synthetic decking

After two decades of attention to detail, innovation, and customer service, the company is one of the most experienced synthetic decking fabricators in the industry. However, even after all that time, creating flooring that fits seamlessly onboard the prized possessions of demanding clients can still be a significant challenge.

“We’re talking about million-dollar boats. When you’re playing around on people’s million-dollar boats, they want it to look right,” explained Travis Tea, President of TT Custom Marine. “The decking needs to fit well, and no boat is perfectly flat or square. For instance, maybe the floor curves up a little bit into a footrest, or the corners of the cockpit are angled to direct water – it’s always a challenge.”

“Everybody wants that teak wood look, but nobody wants to take care of it. Especially when you’re talking about smaller boats, which don’t have a crew.”

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A boat belonging to one of Custom Marine’s customers

For much of its history, the firm measured the decks of clients’ boats with physical templates. Doing so involved hand-drawing outlines of yachts onto clear mylar films, as part of a process that has seen it build up thousands of unique patterns, many of which now sit idle in storage.

As imaging technologies have advanced, so have the company’s practices. In recent years, Tea and his crew have experimented with digitizing, initially via digital templating. While still involving physical patterns, this process at least yielded reusable virtual models that could be sent for CNC machining when needed.

However, when it came to customizing decking so that it fit new boat layouts or those that differed from standard models, physical templating just wasn’t up to the task. With many of the company’s mylar templates starting to fall apart over time, it became clear that they needed to go further with their digitization drive – a path that has led it to 3D scanning with Artec Leo.

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Tea scanning a boat for an OEM client

“If somebody calls us and they want a different product, even if we already have a template for that boat on file, we would have to go back and template it all over again,” said Tea. “This is what initially drew us to 3D scanning. Now, once we scan a boat, we’ve got it, we don't have to go back [and re-scan] regardless of which product customers want – and it’s of archival quality, it’s not going to deteriorate.”

Setting sail for scanning

When the TT Custom Marine crew first switched to 3D scanning, they did so with an entry-level handheld device. This allowed them to begin creating customizable CAD models, a significant step forward compared to physical templating. But Tea says the scanner “just didn’t have the resolution” needed to do so while capturing decking with enough detail.

Another issue with this low-end device was that it struggled to scan objects outside, in sunlight. As a result, Tea and his team found themselves having to undergo lengthy preparations to improve capture conditions, including the erection of screening to deflect light as needed.

By contrast, as the world’s first fully wireless, AI-powered 3D scanner, Artec Leo can be used to rapidly capture objects, regardless of lighting conditions. As soon as he found out about Leo, Tea knew “this was the scanner he’d been waiting on for years.”

Before investing in a new scanner, he arranged a hands-on demo with Artec 3D Ambassador Digitize Designs. Looking back at the North Carolina trial, Bo Helmrich, a 3D Scanning Sales Engineer at Digitize Designs, remembers how Tea was “blown away at how fast and easy it was to use.”

“He was comparing it to another scanner at the time, and Leo was just so much faster and had much higher resolution,” said Helmrich. “I remember one time he said he’d scanned a 38-foot boat. The scan data was accurate to within a millimeter, and he was just amazed.”

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Tea using Leo’s built-in display to track his boat-scanning progress in real-time

“The real game-changer was that you can scan outside – you’re not strapped to a computer, and you know there’s no cabling for you to trip over,” said Tea. “Just seeing the results as you go and being able to see every little detail is amazing.”

“We don’t want to fall in the water. Even if the boat’s on land, we don't want to fall off. Having cables, trying to watch a screen, and holding two different things was just… maddening.”

Finally cracking customization

Adopting Artec Leo has helped TT Custom Marine overcome a significant hurdle to customization: capturing resolution.

While boats are often made from standard molds, their cockpits tend to be fitted with other parts and hardware, which are often not installed in the same exact location each time. Digitizing yacht designs theoretically allows variations to be addressed where needed, but the company wasn’t previously able to capture data in enough detail to make this possible.

Using Artec Leo’s HD Mode, Tea and his team are now able to create noise-free 3D models of yacht decking while capturing fine edges and difficult-to-scan surfaces in high resolution.

“Most boats have a non-skid pattern molded into the floor. It’s usually a little diamond pattern, about a millimeter to a millimeter and a half tall,” said Tea. “When we first tried 3D scanning, we just didn't have the resolution to pick that up. With Artec Leo, it picks up the fine details and color changes, so we can clearly see the differences.”

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One of the boat floor scans captured with Artec Leo and processed on Artec Studio

Another benefit of switching to the Artec Leo was pace. Where physical templating, even a small boat, would have previously taken 3-4 hours, TT Custom Marine can now use the device’s scan speed of up to 35 million points per second to capture an entire 45-foot boat in as little as an hour.

In terms of speed, Tea said, Artec Studio has also been a “game-changer.” Before turning to Artec 3D scanning, his firm would use three different programs to get a 3D mesh cleaned up and textured before exporting it to the Rhino CAD design software for modeling, analyzing, and generally preparing the files for production.

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TT Custom Marine’s boat scan data after tidying-up on Rhino 3D

Now, Artec Studio does all the hard work for them, simplifying meshes so they’re much quicker and easier to process.

“The whole process in Studio is so much easier. From how easy it is to get global registrations and scans aligned to simplifying the mesh,” said Tea. “To scan a 40 or 45-foot boat, you’re talking big datasets, 40, 50, 60 gigabytes. Artec Studio is able to manipulate those large files quite easily. It just crushes them.”

Where next?

Having mastered boat decking customization, TT Custom Marine is now looking into other ways of driving business with their Artec Leo.

Using what he describes as his “new favorite toy,” Tea said his firm has begun working on ways of reverse engineering legacy molds and making custom jigs for some of its long-standing boatbuilding partners.

In more directly decking-related applications, the company is also exploring the idea of 3D scanning certain assemblies, so that they can be reproduced and affixed to the same spot on every boat of a particular model.

Either way, whether they end up using Artec Leo in other areas or stick to customizing decking with it, Tea said it has already been “a godsend” for him and his business.

“I don’t even know anything that I would make better [about Leo]. It’s kind of at a sweet spot right now where it’s working. It’s great.”

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