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Plastimo: “We are always on the lookout for new materials!”

An interview with Cathy Millien, Director of Communications at Plastimo.
Plastimo: “We are always on the lookout for new materials!”
Kevin Escoffier, skipper Imoca PRB © Sam Greenfield
Plastimo: “We are always on the lookout for new materials!”

Plastimo has more than cemented its reputation with sailors. However, few know its history. Can you tell us more?

Plastimo is a French company that was created in 1963 in Lorient, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It was founded by a visionary who successfully gambled on the growth and development of recreational sailing and plastics. The name he chose for his company leaves no room for doubt, although the current trend is towards polymers and composite materials. The first products to come out of the workshop were rotomoulded PVC fenders, closely followed by the first lifejackets comprising blocks made up of different polymers such as polystyrene or polyethylene foam incorporated into a synthetic fibre jacket. The latter were a must-have for many sailing schools. However, the real revolution was to come in the late 1960s when Plastimo designed and marketed the very first plastic magnetic compass.

François Gabart, skipper Multihull MACIF- Picture : Vincent Curutchet - ALEA-MACIF©

 

Photo Baptiste Leglatin© - Plastimo

 

A revolution… really?

Yes, and the word is not too strong. Compasses used to be heavy and fragile objects made of brass and glass. On pleasure craft, it was very rarely permanently in position; between two trips to sea, the owner would carefully store it in a wooden box for fear of breaking should it fall. Solid and even wear-resistant, plastic compasses “By Plastimo” have never been considered a low-end product. It is a component of safety at sea and, in order to fulfil that task, it must above all be reliable, and for this reason it is designed and assembled with watchmaking precision.

Success came immediately, especially given that, being constructed from plastic, it enabled us to market them at a price about four times lower than that of a metal compass. Even today, our models can still be found on a very high percentage of the world’s fleet of recreational, competitive , and also professional fishing boats. We are undoubtedly the European leaders in this area, with very good market shares also in the rest of the world. 

 

Which polymers is it made of?

 

Plastics are second nature at Plastimo, and we have always had teams that are at the forefront of the latest developments. They are able to select the best possible polymer according to what is expected of them. This is essential because each polymer has its own characteristics. The compass, for example, has a dome made of polycarbonate, a material with crystal-like transparency, resistant to scratches and UV rays. Contrary to what many people imagine, a transparent polymer is not necessarily PMMA. The latter would not have been a good choice for manufacturing our compasses because it is more easily scratchable. The same material selection criteria applies to all our products, depending on their function and location on board. Take a bilge pump, for example; we require it to have high mechanical strength and to be resistant to hydrocarbons. It is therefore made of ABS and its lower scratch resistance is absolutely irrelevant for this product hidden in the bilge. 

Photo Jean-Marie Liot© - Plastimo

 

So you must work very closely with polymer manufacturers.
 

Indeed we do, because they are among our main suppliers and we keep up with their latest innovations so that we can eventually use them in our products. Our mission is to make the sea a pleasurable place, hence our base-line “The Sea smiles at you”. Of course, the pleasure at sea all starts with the intrinsic qualities of the safety-related products we design, but it does not stop there. Let me explain: when our design office looks at a lifejacket, it tries obviously to make it an object that can save a life. It is the least we can do since it is designed with that purpose in mind. However, our work does not stop there. We also try to make it comfortable and ergonomic, polymers and hi-tech fibres help us a lot in that regard. For example, some buckles are not made of metal but rather of polyester, a much lighter and very resistant material. The harness rings are made of Dyneema© for the same reasons with the added benefit of not giving an unpleasant sensation when they are in contact with the skin. These are just a few examples: these innovative materials, combined with a real work of styling and design, make that sailors no longer hesitate to wear their lifejacket.

So your products are designed in-house?

Yes, for the most part and in particular all those relating to compasses and the vast majority of safety, anchorage and personal equipment products.  As I said before, we have our own design office and have built our reputation on quality and innovation. Even on a global scale, the recreational sailing market remains a niche market, so we must offer standout ranges of products to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, and even to stay one step ahead of them. This is one of the reasons why we are constantly on the lookout for new polymers, coated fabrics and innovative fibres.

Photo Hervé Cohonner© - Plastimo

Safety products must comply with very strict standards that lead to more standardised products, this requires us to be creative! This is the case in the field of our lifeboats, which are unique due to their exclusive double shell made of different polymers carefully chosen for their different qualities. It is in the same spirit that Plastimo has recently developed a range of seawear. Here too, competition is tough and, as an outsider, we try to do better than others and have taken care of a lot of details that make our product unique. Thus, we have worked hard on ergonomics and style using a wide range of highly flexible synthetic fibres for greater comfort and agility in manoeuvring. These hi-tech fabrics have the enormous advantage of being able to be assembled by thermofusing. This process makes the fabrics resistant and above all very waterproof, qualities that are essential at sea!

 

Finally, what is your environmental policy?

When you have the sea for a playground, you have to be as virtuous as possible in terms of the environment. For example, we would like to be able to recycle our products, but doing so is very complicated because they are usually made of several materials that are very expensive to separate. We would also like to use more recycled plastics, but the various tests we have carried out show that they can sometimes partially lose their mechanical qualities and as far as safety is concerned, we must focus on optimal performance. At the same time, we have made great progress in the management of our waste in our Lorient plant, which is certified ISO 9001, and are now among the most efficient companies of this kind. Finally, on another note, our exclusive 18-year warranty on life rafts is a commitment to lasting quality, product longevity, of which we are very proud: It reflects the Plastimo brand’s commitment against programmed obsolescence since only Plastimo to date offers a life raft capable of lasting 20 years.

 

 

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