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Materials used for ship construction play very important role in the total cost of the vessel and
the performance of the vessel in operation. Most of the failures occurred in ships are attributed
to the materials. There are many materials available for ship construction. The Selection of
material will be depending on the type of the vessel and the purpose for which it is going to be
built. We will be discussing the properties and the advantages and disadvantages of some
common materials used in the shipbuilding industry. We will be discussing the following
materials here in this lecture.

Following are the materials:

1. Steel
2. Aluminium
3. Composites

There are many different grades of steel, each with its own characteristics and suitability
for a particular application. Mild steel is the most commonly used and cheapest
shipbuilding material.

Advantages of steel :

 Low Cost
 Ductile in ambient conditions
 Isotropic
 Easily formable and fabricated
 Easily obtained
 Easily alloyed
 Easily repaired
 Good fire resistance
Disadvantages of steel :
 Corrosion
 Lower fatigue limit
 Heavy
 Brittle at lower temperature
 Magnetic

Due to these advantages, steel remains the most popular material for welded ship
structures. However, one serious problem with steel is its tendency to corrode in a
marine environment. Protective coatings may be used to defer the initiation of
corrosion. Thus, the planning and execution of inspection, maintenance and repair of the
hull structure will assume a high level of importance.
Mild steel has another particular disadvantage, in that toughness is reduced and it can
become brittle at low temperatures. Therefore, caution must be exercised if mild steel is
to be used in any large structure that may be subject to relatively high rates of loading
(for example collision or minor weapon impact) in cold conditions. In extreme cases,
even high seas may be enough to trigger brittle failure. Although vessels are not planned
to operate in extremely cold conditions, brittle fracture and high thermal stresses may
still be of concern due to large temperature variations in the prescribed operational
envelope of the vessels.

Various types of high strength steels exist and these are usually advocated in surface
ships to reduce weight. However, high strength steel only provides greater strength. No
advantage is provided in terms of stiffness. Strength of the vessels, with a length of
approximately 50-60 m, will be mostly determined by the adequacy of the local structure
in terms of buckling of local plating and stiffeners, and not by the longitudinal hull girder
strength. Therefore, it is expected that no substantial weight savings will be gained by
the use of high strength steels.

There are four grades of normal strength steels used in shipbuilding. These are
designated by the alloying composition and the toughness (determined by the Charpy V-
notch impact test). These are given in Table 1.

Table 1 : Designation of mild steels used for ship structural applications.

Grades A B D E

Chemical Composition(%)

Carbon 0.21 max. 0.21 max. 0.21 max. 0.18 max.

Manganese 2.5 × C% 0.80 min. 0.60 0.70

Silicon 0.50 0.35 0.10-0.35 0.10-0.35

Sulphur 0.035 0.035 0.035 0.035

Phosphorus 0.035 0.035 0.035 0.035

Aluminium - - 0.015 min. 0.015 min.

Yield stress Minimum( N/mm2)

235 235 235 235

Tensile strength (N/mm2)

400-520 400-520 400-520 400-520

Charpy V-Notch ( Impact Energy- Joules)

27 (20C) 34(0C) 41(-20C)

For completeness, mechanical properties and designations of several high

strength steels also used in shipbuilding are provided in Table 2.

Table 2 : Mechanical properties of high strength steels used for ship tructural

Strength and AH32, DH32, AH36, DH36, AH40, DH40,

Grade EH32, FH32 EH36, FH36 EH40, FH40
Yield ( MPa ) 315 355 390
Tensile( MPa) 440-590 490-620 510-650
Impact Energy 31 34 41
( MPa)
Impact Tests: AH 0C, DH -20C, EH -40C, FH -60C

Aluminum Alloys :

The second most commonly used material in shipbuilding after steel is aluminum alloy.
The aluminum alloy range is very versatile because of its unique combination of
properties for engineering and construction purposes. Aluminum alloys have the primary
advantage of being light weight with some alloys having comparable strength to that of
structural steel, thus providing better strength to weight ratio compared with steel. They
also have high corrosion resistance.

The system of designating aluminum alloys is determined by an international agreement

adopted by all major aluminum producing countries. Aluminum alloys are designated by
both alloying and temper processes used to produce particular desired properties.

Aluminum alloys are classified under two categories: non-heat treatable and heat
treatable. The non-heat treatable alloys are those that respond to cold working
(rolling/drawing) to improve mechanical properties. The properties are then degraded
when heat is applied (for example, from welding) . To improve the properties the
material would require reworking, which is not always possible. The non-heat treatable
alloy series are 1XXX, 3XXX, 4XXX and 5XXX. The heat treatable alloys 2XXX, 6XXX and
7XXX series are those that respond to heat treatment to improve mechanical properties.
Welding will reduce the strength of the alloy, however post-heat treatment can restore
the strength close to its original properties.
The mechanical properties of aluminum alloys are varied and this allows versatility when
selecting a particular series and grade of aluminum alloy. The aluminum alloy series
1XXX to 7XXX have different applications depending on their major alloying element
content as detailed below (Table 3).

Aluminum alloys lose mechanical strength dramatically at elevated temperatures (above

200-250 °C). The melting point for aluminum alloy is around 550 to 600°C and this is why
the mechanical properties degrade very quickly at high temperatures. However, the
strength of aluminum alloy increases as the temperature is lowered with little reduction
in ductility (Table 4).

Table 4 details the mechanical strengths of various aluminum alloys at varying

temperatures with an emphasis on 5XXX and 6XXX series (marine series).

Advantages of Aluminum Alloys:

 Light Weight
 Corrosion resistant
 Easily formed
 Easily fabricated
 Readily Available
 Ductile
 Non Magnetic

Disadvantages of Aluminum Alloys:

 Poor Fatigue Properties
 Poor performance in fire
 Low melting point and softening temperature
 High relevant cost
 Strength and stiffness less than steel

Aluminum alloys are already a very important material in the construction of fast ferries
and high speed light craft. The lighter construction of these vessels allows a higher speed
or reduced fuel consumption resulting in a reduction of overall running costs.

The properties of 5XXX and 6XXX series aluminum alloys can be compared to other
metallic materials commonly used in the marine environment (Table 5).

Table 3 : Designation of aluminum alloys.

Major Alloying Alloy

Alloy Element Series Characteristics

Pure aluminum for applications

requiring excellent corrosion

>99.00% resistance, high conductivity and

good workability - strength & readily

Aluminum 1XXX weldable.

Aluminum High strength, low corrosion

alloys resistance & difficult to weld by

grouped by Copper 2XXX common means (MIG, TIG).

major Manganese 3XXX Good workability, moderate strength

alloying & readily weldable.

element Silicon 4XXX Melting point lowered without

producing brittleness and utilised as

filler for welding and brazing.

Magnesium 5XXX Moderate to high strength, good

corrosion resistance to the marine

environment and readily weldable.

Magnesium & 6XXX Moderate strength, formability,

Silicon corrosion resistance and wealdable

Zinc 7XXX High strength, difficult to weld.

Table 4 : Various series of aluminum alloys at a range of temperatures.

Temper Temperature Ultimate Yield Strength Elongation
oC Tensile (MPa) in 50 mm (%)



-195 420* 245* 25*

25 305 215 10

370 35* 25* 115*


-195 420* 245* 20*

25 305 220 10

370 35* 25* 115*

5383 -

-195 415 325 22

25 310 275 17

6082 - T6 370 20 10 95

Table 5 : Comparative properties of material in common use in the marine environment

Comparative Density Melting Point Yield Ultimate Elongation

(g cm-
Materials 3) (liquidus) 0C Strength Tensile (%)

(MPa) Strength


Al 5086-H116 2.66 600 230 320 10

Al 5083-H116 2.66 600 215 305 10

Al 5383-H116 2.64 600 220 305 10

ALUSTAR-H116 2.66 600 260 360 24

6082-T6 2.66 600 280 315 12

Steel E24 7.8 1450 240 410 40

Stainless Steel 18/8 7.9 1450 280 630 55

Copper 8.9 1083 70 235 45

90/10 8.9 1140 120 320 40

Copper-Alu 6% 8.2 1050 180 400 60

Titanium 4.5 1670 250 380 20

Composites :

A composite material is composed of two or more distinct phases. Fibre-reinforced

plastics (FRPs) are one such example of a polymer composite material where glass,
aramid or carbon fibres reinforce a matrix of polyester, vinylester or epoxy resin. The
properties of various reinforcing fibres and resin materials vary enormously. The
mechanical properties of a polymer composite are dependent on the properties of the
reinforcing fibres (defined by the type and weave of the fibres) and the resin material,
and also on the laminate arrangement (volume fraction of reinforcement, fibre
alignment and stacking sequence). This is one of the main advantages of polymer
composites the material can be tailored for a specific application. Some properties of
commonly used polymer composites are shown in Table 6.
Marine polymer composites may be used in the form of single-skin (eg., RAN
Minehunter Coastals) or sandwich construction. Sandwich construction incorporates a
core material such as PVC (poly vinyl chloride) foam bonded between FRP skins.
Examples of sandwich construction include the hull structures of the RAN Minehunter
Inshore (MHIs), Skjold class Fast Patrol Boat (Norway), Visby class Corvette (Sweden) and
superstructures of the Rauma 2000 Fast Attack Craft (Finland) and La Fayette Frigate

A typical marine grade glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) laminate has a density of

approximately 1.7 t/m3. However, the overall weight of a GRP structure is dependent on
constraints that may influence stiffener layout etc, and also the desired combination of
strength and stiffness. Typically, GRP structures are lighter than equivalent steel
structures. For example, the structural weight of a 52m patrol craft with an optimal steel
and GRP structure has been calculated to be 114 tons and 72 tons, respectively.

Advantages of GRP:

 Low magnetic properties

 Low electrical conductivity
 Resistance to Corrosion
 Resistance to Marine Growth
 Relatively High SONAR Transparancy
 Good Strength to Weight ratio
 Good Fatigue Properties
 Maintenance of properties at low temperatures
 Availability
 Can be manufactured to near net shape
 Stiffness and strength can be tailored to structural requirements
 Excellent thermal insulation
 Light Weight

Shear strength between lamina (inter-laminar shear strength) is often cited as a

weakness of GRP composite materials. However, appropriate design and application can
avoid potential delamination problems. In general, disadvantages of GRP may be listed

Disadvantages of GRP:
 Lower inter laminar strength
 High dependence on construction quality
 Low inherent strength
 Susceptible to fire damage
Table 6 : Typical mechanical properties of FRP laminate.
Material Fibre Specific Young’s Shear Tensile Composite Shear
Volume Gravity Modulus Modulus Strength Strength Strength
fraction, ( SG) E (GPa) (GPa) (MPa) (MPa) (MPa)
E-Glass 0.18 1.5 8 3 100 140 75
Polyester (
E-Glass 0.34 1.7 15 3.5 250 210 100
(balanced WR)
E-Glass 0.43 1.8 30 3.5 750 600
( Unidirectional)
Carbon/epoxy 0.5 1.5 55 12 360 300 110
( High strength
balanced fabric)
Carbon/epoxy 0.62 1.6 140 15 1500 1300
( High strength
Carbon/epoxy 0.62 1.7 300 20 700 650
( High strength
Kevlar49/epoxy( 0.62 1.4 50 8 1600 230

GRP composites have been used for several naval applications, including the Minehunter
Inshore (MHIs) and Huon class Minehunter Coastal (MHCs) vessels and bow sonar dome
and casing to the Collin class submarines in Australia. Mine counter measure vessels
overseas including the Hunt and Sandown classes in the UK, Osprey class in the US and
the Gaeta class of Italy are also GRP construction. Other marine applications of FRPs
have included patrol boats, corvettes, superstructures, propellers and appendages of
surface vessels.

There are two main fabrication processes available for GRP shipbuilding: hand lay-up and
the SCRIMP method. Hand lay-up is a well established technique and has been used
successfully. SCRIMP is a registered trade name for a method known as Vacuum Assisted
Resin Transfer Moulding (VARTM). This method can provide higher fibre-resin ratios, and
hence mechanical properties, than the hand lay- up process. VARTM has become a well -
established technique.