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Landing School president discusses sustainable boat manufacturing

By By Dustin Q. Diaz, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | Sept. 27, 2016


The president of The Landing School of Boat Building and Design visited maritime colleagues at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division to discuss advances in wooden boat manufacturing sustainability Sept. 21.

Dr. Richard J. Schuhmann participated in Carderock's ongoing series of Innovation Brown Bags, presenting "Zero Carbon Manufacture: A Cradle to Christening Materials Life-Cycle Analysis" on the invitation of Garth Jensen, Carderock's director of innovation, who has been friends with Schuhmann since they first met at Pennsylvania State University nearly a decade ago.

"Many of you might think, 'Why would I come and learn about boat design?'" Jensen said. "I think there's always something to be learned from how people do things when it's close to what we do, but just enough different that we can pick something up. And Rick's one of the best thinkers I've ever met."

Schuhmann is the president and a graduate of The Landing School in Arundel, Maine, which is a nationally accredited, not-for-profit school for yacht design, boat building and marine systems technology. It began operations in 1978 with an initial focus on wooden boat building, which it retains today. Schuhmann's presentation focused on the sustainability as applied to the boats built by his students during the 10-month curriculum, comparing the 17-foot LS-17 wooden boat they built in 2014 and 2015 to the 19-foot A-19, which he designed with the help of naval architects that they began building this year.

"When I became president of The Landing School, I decided I would take a look at how we were building boats at the school through this lens of sustainability," Schuhmann said. "Sustainability means 'meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.' As an engineer, this definition doesn't tell me how to do that; it doesn't give me data I can plug into a matrix or anything like that to solve the problem. So we use the three P's, the three indices of sustainability: prosperity, people and the planet. These are things -- financial, social and environmental -- that I can put into a Pugh chart and those indices can help me make decisions."

Schuhmann said prosperity was the key driver initially for him.

As a not-for-profit institution, The Landing School must recover the cost of its materials used to continue operating. He said the school's primary goal is building boats that are excellent educational vehicles for its students, and that's what is most important; but as a not-for-profit institution, the secondary goal of covering the cost of the materials needed to do that is always in play.

"We try to cover the cost for our educational materials by building cool things that we can then sell to people at cost," said Schuhmann. "The lower the cost, the larger our market is for selling our educational materials. When I looked at the bill of materials for the LS-17, two things jumped out at me immediately. Number one: this is a really expensive boat -- 17 feet long and we were investing well north of $10,000 just in materials to build it. The second thing was, when I looked at the materials, the kinds of wood had funny names that didn't sound local to New England. Then I looked into the country of origin where we got that material; it was remarkable to have the epiphany that we were building this boat in Maine, at this traditional boat building shop out of wood, and this boat would not contain a single toothpick of U.S.-grown wood."

Schuhmann said he decided to look at the carbon footprint associated with the various kinds of imported wood being used, which involves the cutting down of trees, the production of the wood, the transportation involved, and other factors involving the burning of fossil fuels. In doing this, he decided the school would go back to using U.S.-grown wood, as it did when he was a student there.

"I said, 'Why don't we build a boat that people can afford exclusively out of U.S. materials that has as low of a carbon footprint as possible? Why don't we see how low we can go?'" Schuhmann said. "As a school, we have a lower footprint just by making this change."

That change alone drove down costs by 52 percent, making the new A-19 less expensive to build and easier to sell than the LS-17. He felt this change addressed the second index of people by putting money back in the pocket of the local community, as well as the third of being environmentally responsible. He broke down the life-cycle assessment analysis of the two boats, the materials used in each and the amount of carbon dioxide produced, or carbon footprint, in building each -- about 2,015 pounds for the LS-17, and 228 pounds for the A-19, nearly a 90 percent reduction for a bigger boat.

Schuhmann also discussed ways of sequestering carbon in these boats, the economic opportunities in developing technologies that produce less carbon and future applications for wood to replace other materials in mitigating future climate change. He then took questions from Carderock employees about his process in tracking data during the life-cycle assessment, whether The Landing School uses technologies under development at Carderock such as additive manufacturing and set-based design, and other topics. He said he enjoyed meeting with fellow maritime workers and sharing his findings with them and he hopes the shipbuilding industry will continue to embrace changes like this that benefit everyone.

"We've driven down costs and invested in our local economy to produce incredibly low carbon footprint boats. I think it's a win-win-win and I don't find a lot of those in life," Schuhmann said. "The first ship that was built in the U.S. was built up in Maine in the 1600s. To preserve American shipbuilding and boat building in Maine is really important and I think the only way to do that is by being innovative and thinking about the next big thing before it comes along."