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October 6, 2006

The reason we use cross-linked plastic is simple. Our boats are our business and our pride and we want to use the best materials available in them. Cross-Linked HDPE costs more than any of the Linear materials that make up what all other brands use, period. The best non cross-linked material on the market that Schulman Plastics has to offer (the supplier to the kayaking industry, and offering one grade better linear product than the other supplier, Paxon) is called 370B. That is not what kayak companies call that material because they prefer to put their own name on it, and Schulman allows that. However, the best of the linears is either 360 or 370A or 370B and 370B is the most expensive and best of the linears, while Cross-linked is 25% more expensive for the raw material than 370B and takes much longer in the oven as well. There are no secrets or “special materials” that are available to special kayak manufacturers. Kayak companies are so small that we are lucky to have any control over what we get from the manufacturers and be able to dictate colors, etc. Schulman, for example is a $1.3 BILLION dollar company and Jackson Kayak will buy only about 12,000 pounds of material next year which is a total of $19,000 in raw plastic from them.

It really comes down to whether or not I am willing to spend the extra money to make my hulls using cross-linked material, or should I switch to 370B for my whitewater boats, save a lot of money on my hulls from both raw materials and more importantly on labor costs to mold it. Our answer is clear, we’ll make the best boats we know how to and we’ll do what we can to suck it up and still provide you with the finished product at an affordable price.

We will be making our “old models” in 2007 and they’ll be called the “classic series”. These boats will be priced at $795 and will be for beginners or people looking for a low priced, high performance whitewater kayak. We will make these entry level boats from Schulman 370B Linear material. ALL of the creekboats, and new models (New Funs, New Rockers, New Stars) will be made from Cross-linked HDPE.

There are three other factors that combined are even MORE important in the strength and longevity of a whitewater kayak than the material it is made of!!!!

  1. 1st- The boat must be cooked in the oven correctly!-
    1. With Linear plastic (all whitewater brands but Jackson Kayak) there is about a 3 minute window of time that the hull must come out of the oven to be “fully cooked, but not over cooked”. It is like baking a cake, if it is under cooked it is runny, if it is overcooked it is burnt. With linear plastic if you undercook it, it is VERY BRITTLE! This means it will break easily. All molders want to run the boats through the ovens as fast as they can and, in general, if they err, it is on the side of under cooking it. When you over cook linear the boat becomes weaker really fast with each extra minute. Remember that during the cooking of the boat the material is melting, and like ice melting it is absorbing energy to melt but the temperature isn’t going up any (ice stays at 32 degrees until it is all melted, same with plastic at its melting temp), but the moment the plastic is fully melted the temperature shoots up and if the hull isn’t removed from the oven and cooled on time it destroys the property of the plastic, making a bad hull that looks OK but will break on the river. With linear, if you get that slightly brown color on the inside of the boat it is overcooked and bad FOR SURE and it can be overcooked and not brown also.
    2. With Cross-linked plastic if you undercook it, it also is very weak. However, you have about a 5 minute window that you can overcook it and it doesn’t hurt it! When a cross-linked boat is slightly brown on the inside this is a good thing. It means that the boat is not undercooked. It is cheaper for Jackson Kayak to add a minute or two to the cycle time and go past the minimum cook time and make all good boats than to go to short and make a bad boat that will break. All of our warranty issues (8 boats out of 8,200), except for two (rebar, etc.) were from undercooked boats that were our fault and snuck past our quality control. Team JK had 4 of the new Funs that we were paddling at the Gauley and Cheoa and all of them were undercooked because we hadn’t dialed in the cook times yet and we rushed to get the hulls done so we could paddle them. We spent the last week dialing in the molding and are ready to rock now.
  2. The mold must be dialed in to create the correct thicknesses in each area of the boat
    1. Jackson Kayak uses a “T-Mike” or ultrasound machine to take 15 different measurements on EVERY hull to assure that they are thick enough in all areas. Areas that boats can easily break are in the hull, where screws go through them (we don’t have that issue since we don’t run screws through our boats) and the ends. Most warranty issues can be traced back to under built areas (too thin) or to poor molding.
  3. Poorly designed outfitting
    1. When seats are too short, paddling is too scarce, things just don’t fit right, etc. etc. things BREAK even if you have a good hull. Jackson Kayak was VERY careful to assure that we were not building an expensive properly molded hull and then attaching stuff to it in a way that would add un-needed stresses.

Take a cross-linked hull that is molded properly, thickness taken care of properly, and outfitted properly, with awesome quality control, and you have a long lasting great product. Below is a report on cross-linked material.


Dr. A. Brent Strong
Brent Strong, Ph.D., is a professor of Manufacturing Engineering Technology at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and was named the Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer for 2003, recognizing teaching and research excellence. In 2002 he was elected a Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Material and Processing Engineering (SAMPE). He’s also an Alcuin Fellow at BYU for his contributions on Creativity, and he’s the Lorin Farr Professor of Entrepreneurial Technology for his technical and business abilities. Dr. Strong is the founding director of BYU’s Manufacturing Leadership Forum, Creativity Laboratory, Advanced Composite Manufacturing and Engineering Center, and of the Rapid Product Realization Center. He was chair of the Department of Manufacturing Engineering and Technology from 1992-1995.

Dr. Strong’s technical research interests are in composite and plastic materials and in processing of those materials. His research includes investigating new plastics, composite materials, manufacturing processes, and developing new manufacturing methods for plastics and composites. He also researches methods for improving productivity of entrepreneurs and the nature of creativity. He is the author, co-author, or editor of nine books (one of them in its 3rd edition and another in its 13th printing), over 100 peer-reviewed and invited papers, and is the inventor or co-inventor on 14 patents. He’s been honored as "Teacher of the Year" four times and also an outstanding college researcher.

Dr. Strong was elected International President of the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering (SAMPE) in 1997. He is also a member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and Phi Kappa Phi honorary society. Dr. Strong holds both a B.A. in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Utah.

Prior to entering Brigham Young University, he was President of Hardie Irrigation Systems, a world-wide manufacturer of plastic equipment for the drip irrigation industry. He was also the vice president for market development for the Eyring Research and a senior research chemist and manufacturing engineering for the DuPont Company. Dr. Strong continues to be active in business — serving on boards of directors and consulting for a number of companies.