It has been said that the history of The Netherlands is mainly a history of water, whether it’s the land reclamation which began in the 14th century, it’s emergence as a maritime superpower during the 1700’s, its evolution into a shipping hub for European trade and the continuing importance of the Dutch maritime cluster as a hotbed for research and technology boasting one of the most modern fleets in the world.
Rotterdam in particular has established itself not merely as Europe’s number one container port but also a ‘brainport’ for logistics, financial expertise and maritime innovation. Among those at the forefront of the Rotterdam cluster is synthetic flooring specialist Bolidt. Although active in other industries, such as public buildings, maritime is Bolidt’s particular specialism, accounting for around 70% of its turnover. The main focus of those activities are in the cruise and superyacht sectors, although it is also involved in offshore and has even provided flooring for LNG carriers.
In July, The Naval Architect was invited to a preview of the Bolidt Innovation Centre, ahead of its official opening in October. Situated in the grounds of the Bolidt Campus, on the banks of the Noord river in Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht, it’s a novel combination of research lab and interactive technology store, intended to showcase Bolidt’s technical capabilities, brainstorm ideas and promote the company’s drive towards sustainability.
“We thought it was time to create a place where we can come together and have a conversation,” explains CEO Reintz Willem Bol, whose father co-founded the company in 1964.
A fully integrated supply chain, Bolidt develops, manufactures and applies all its flooring solutions. It was among the pioneers in replacing traditional wood or metal decking with polymers, or more specifically thermosetting polyurethane-based resins, using its own custom-designed compounds. But like all parts of the marine equipment and materials industries it has found itself under increasing pressure to deliver lighter (synthetic floors typically weigh 40% less than traditional materials), greener and more durable solutions.
That’s particularly true of the cruise sector, where owners and operators are constantly seeking novel and innovative furnishings. Bolidt broke new ground in 2005, with the launch of Bolideck Future Teak, a synthetic teak solution which has become a firm favourite with the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Royal Caribbean International.
Among the most eye-catching projects Bolidt has worked on in recent years is the 230m kart track that was installed on NCL’s Meyer Werft-built 2017 cruise ship Norwegian Joy, for which it developed Bolidt Racetrack, a patented material based on road surfacing technology. Another has been the embedding of LED lighting into cruise ship decks, whether for decorative (as with the interactive artwork onboard TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 2) or safety purposes, and developed in partnership with LED specialists. More recently, Bolidt has been developing flooring capable of detecting weight that uses a chemical current instead of wiring.
One of the striking aspects of the Innovation Centre comes at the core of the building, where the glass-walled R&D Hub is situated, allowing visitors to see Bolidt’s chemists at work. There is also an advanced climate chamber and accelerated weathering laboratory. “We are working on a number of Polar and expedition cruise projects at the moment and these facilities will be put to good use developing materials that meet these needs,” explains Jacco van Overbeek, division director for Bolidt Maritime.
Over the last few years Bolidt has strived to put sustainability at the heart of its business. Plant oil-based resins have replaced traditional oil-based versions, water-based sealants instead of solvents, prefab production, lightweight materials and the adoption of Lean principles are all now embedded in its operations.
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re the best boy in the classroom,” admits purchasing manager Coen Geerdink. The company’s vision is for 100% sustainability, with plans for initiatives such as purchasing of reusable or biodegradable packaging, renewable energy, energy efficiency and supply chain management.
Already it is using 50,000kg per year of waste-derived grinded polyurethane (a substance that uncannily resembles chocolate powder) in its products. Further ahead, there is an abundance of functional innovations in the planning.“For cruise we want to develop floors that are ocean plastic-based, generating energy, CO2 absorbant, flow resistant, antibacterial, self-cleaning. We want to involve clients, suppliers, governmental and non-governmental organisations… anyone who can help us,” says Geerdink.