Features, Innovation, Local Manufacturing, Tasmania

Becoming a global leader

Incat, a family-owned business based in Tasmania, has evolved into a global leader in maritime innovation, challenging norms and pushing boundaries in ship design. Manufacturers’ Monthly reports.

Founded in 1978 by Robert Clifford, Incat has grown to become a global leader in maritime manufacturing, known for its innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We started in 1978 when our founder and chairman, Robert Clifford, actually built a few small ferries and operated them here in Hobart across the Derwent River,” said Stephen Casey, CEO of Incat.

“That kicked off a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, and building a business and challenging the norms around how ship design and ship build should be done.”

Incat has a particular focus on using aluminium for its lightweight properties, allowing for faster vessels.

“We’ve just expanded to the point where we’re now building some of the biggest passenger catamarans in the world, and the real focus has been on the use of aluminium,” Casey said.

“That gives us the lightweight product, which allows us to operate the vessels at a really highspeed.”

Since its inception, Incat has grown to have a diverse portfolio of vessels operating worldwide.

Despite starting out as a humble family-owned business, the company now has a significant presence in Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Australia.

“From really small, humble beginnings as a family business where we operated small ferries here in Hobart, the Incat vessels now are all around the world,” explained Casey.

“We currently operate in all the large continents where people are using ferry as a transport mode.

“A significant number of our boats are in Europe, a lot of them focused on the English Channel, where ferry transport’s just a common way of people getting around the continent.

“Then of course we have some of the smaller ferries here in Australia in quite iconic locations like Sydney Harbour.

The largest shipyard in the southern hemisphere

Image: Capral

Their facility in Hobart, Tasmania, is one of the largest covered shipyards in the southern hemisphere, where they design, build, and launch their vessels.

“The Incat facility here in Hobart is five large production halls, and it’s the largest covered shipyard in the southern hemisphere,” said Casey.

Located in Derwent Park, just a short distance from Hobart’s CBD, the facility enjoys access to Prince of Wales Bay for vessel launches and sea trials.

Situated in a maritime-centric city, Incat’s presence is a source of pride for the local population, says Casey.

“We can do our sea trials in the Derwent, and we can go down the Derwent and into the heads and be exposed into some of the rougher waters,” he said.

“We’ve got great access to the water here in Hobart and very much a maritime centric city. It’s a city and a population that’s very proud of having Incat here in the middle of it.”

Incat’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship is evident in its latest project, Hull 96, set to be the world’s largest battery electric vessel.

“Innovation defines Incat’s culture, marked by an entrepreneurial spirit in design, construction, and operational ventures, underscored by a boldness to take risks in the innovation realm,” said Casey.

“Hull 96, which is more than 50 per cent complete here now in Hobart, it’s the largest ferry we’ve ever built at 130 metres long.

“That’s one part of the risk and innovation in terms of getting to the maximum scale of the vessels that we’ve typically built.

The Hull 96 vessel, accommodating 2,200 passengers and approximately 225 vehicles, has a unique feature: an entire deck dedicated to high-end duty-free shopping spanning 2,350 square meters.

“It’s high-end duty-free shopping, kind of what we’d see at an airport. It’s quite amazing to have in a vessel of this sort,” explained Casey.

Commissioned by Buquebus, the vessel will eventually operate as a shuttle service between Argentina and Uruguay, serving multiple ports owned by the company.

“This vessel for our customer, Buquebus is based in South America, so they operate between Argentina and Uruguay, and it’s a shuttle service between a number of ports that are owned and operated by the customer,” said Casey.

“It’s quite a remarkable business in their own right.”

A loyal workforce

At Incat, Casey explained that a diverse workforce is cultivated, ranging from board members to apprentices, encompassing various skill sets such as naval architecture, engineering, and trades like welding and electrical work.

“Yeah, at Incat we have, well, everyone from our board of directors, family business who are here and embedded in their business through to our newest and youngest apprentices,” he said.

“Pretty much every skill you could possibly think of in any sort of advanced manufacturing facility, we have here at Incat.”

The company emphasises the training and advancement of its employees, many of whom hail from Tasmania, fostering a strong sense of loyalty and community within the organisation.

This commitment to skill development is crucial to construct vessels like the one described, and it often leads individuals to remain loyal to Incat, says Casey.

“It is a value of the business that we’re very proud of, the fact that we can employ,” he said.

“So many Tasmanians and they can be trained from the very start of their career and

have a great career here.”

“I think a trait of the Incat culture is that our workforce is so loyal, and our board of directors are so passionate about looking after our workforce and giving them their opportunities to be the best of them that they can be,” explained Casey.

Enabled by aluminium

Image: Capral

Incat relies heavily on aluminium as the primary material for constructing their ships, utilising it more than any other material.

“So even though by value it might not be the highest cost item in a boat, we use more aluminium than anything else,” said Casey.

This necessitates a dependable supplier, and the close relationship with Capral has been pivotal to Incat’s success over the years.

“That part of our workforce, our welders and our fabricators, and even our fit-out department who are also using aluminium, it’s the single largest material that we use,” said Casey.

“Subsequently, we need a reliable and responsible supplier, and a supplier of quality material.”

“Incat has developed a very close relationship with Capral over many years, and it is a critical success factor for Incat.”

Currently, Incat purchases most of their plate and most of their extrusion from Capral.

Capral acts as a key supply chain partner for Incat as they have a representative in Hobart.

“Having someone that we can pick up the phone call into the office, have a conversation with, adds real value to our procurement process and our production process more broadly,” said Casey.

Incat benefits from Capral’s service of holding stock within their network, minimising storage needs and optimising cash flow.

This collaborative approach goes beyond typical transactions and is crucial for Incat’s operations.

Additionally, Capral produces proprietary extrusions for Incat, including specialised designs such as vehicle deck decking.

“For example, the decking that we use on our vehicle decks for carrying cars and trucks. We have many dies that Capral holds. That’s a key part of our product,” said Casey.

Incat utilises marine-grade aluminium, primarily the 5083 series, with occasional use of 5383 for its enhanced strength in specific applications.

“It allows us to achieve an overall lighter outcome for the vessel. Which going back to what I mentioned earlier is again, it’s part of our competitive advantage,” explained Casey.

The future of Incat

Casey expressed that the Incat team is eager to pursue further innovation in sustainable maritime transportation.

Building on the momentum of Hull 096, Casey explained that Incat is committed to constructing a future fleet of electric ships which will set new standards in vessel performance, passenger comfort, and environmental stewardship.

He continued to explain that Incat plans to make zero emission vessels more readily available to the world by producing multiple electric ships every year.

Casey said to meet emission reduction targets across the world, hundreds, if not thousands of electric ships will need to be produced.

The company is expanding its production facilities and growing its workforce to meet the market demand.

“We’re still very hungry and have so much else to do and I think it’s leading that electrification of vessel propulsion systems,” said Casey.

“Knowing that has such a positive impact on the environment, but it still allows a great product in these passenger ferries to be exported around the world.”

“We know there’s a huge fleet across the world that need to find a net zero carbon emission solution, and we have it here at Incat.”

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