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INDUSTRY FOCUS – Franck Palomba, Managing Director, Zodiac Hurricane Technologies

INDUSTRY FOCUS – Franck Palomba, Managing Director, Zodiac Hurricane Technologies

BY JOETEY ATTARIWALA

Franck Palomba

Managing Director, Zodiac Hurricane Technologies

CDR: Mr. Polomba, thank you for speaking with CDR. Please share a little bit about your professional background.

Franck Palomba: Sure, I entered the marine industry in mid-1999, after completing my degree in Business and Management in France. I took my first job in Canada in Toronto, where I was working for the recreational boat division of Zodiac Group. After a few years, I transferred to the SOLAS life safety equipment division of the Group. In 2019 an opportunity came along to move back to the boat business through Zodiac Milpro Group, so I ended up moving to the States for three years. In April 2022, I had the opportunity to return to Canada, so I moved back to Vancouver where I took the lead of Zodiac Hurricane Technologies. 

CDR: Tell me a bit about the Zodiac Milpro Group today, with particular focus on the operation in Canada. 

Franck Palomba: Zodiac Milpro Group is headquartered in France and has roughly 440 employees and we have divisions across the world, with the two largest sites in Canada and Spain. We are a worldwide company that designs and produces RHIBs [Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats] and inflatables for military and commercial purposes, and we recently acquired two businesses, a naval architect company in the UK; and a small yacht builder shipyard in Germany. 

As a matter of fact, we are a semi-custom boat builder, and we’re able to do that in a fully documented fashion. We have engineers whose sole job it is to make sure that we’re compliant with whatever build standards or compliance and class approval standards are prevalent in a contract or a build. They interact with the relevant agencies around the world to make sure that we’re complying with all of those rules and regulations. Being able to be a semi-custom builder, and yet, document everything to the very high standards required by the military and law enforcement community for contract compliance is one of our specialties and something we have been doing for decades. 

The activities here in Vancouver are one of the main historical sites of the Zodiac Milpro Group. Most of the Group’s fast, high-performance military RHIBs with hulls of fiberglass or aluminum, are built here in Vancouver in our ISO 9001:2015 approved facility, while the Spanish site is more focused on commercial RHIBs and inflatable boats. In Vancouver we have 160 employees and a turnover of about $40 million Canadian dollars, which is close to 50% of the Group turnover.

CDR: Please share a bit more about the recent acquisitions? 

Franck Palomba: We were fortunate to integrate a naval architect firm a few years back in the UK called Vectis Marine Design. They worked with us for many years in the past and they helped us to develop new platforms and new hull shapes. They’re now fully part of the Group and they’ve been really helpful in implementing a new range of hulls as we expand into bigger, faster and lighter platforms.

According to Palomba, the MRB is the RCN’s vision of the perfect multirole platform for their operations

CDR: That seems to incorporate all of the things that I believe customers are looking for today. 

Franck Palomba: Vectis is quite an interesting company because they have acquired a strong expertise in integrating battery technology for the propulsion of mid-sized vessels, and this is something that we’re trying to integrate as well into the RHIB business. The most recent acquisition of the Group was Yachtwerft Meyer which is a high-end yacht tender shipyard in Germany. While they bring a different range of products, they also have a unique expertise on how to design and manufacture carbon fiber hulls. Acquiring them also gives us more access to the German market. There’s quite a lot of promising synergy between the two companies in terms of know-how and technology.

CDR: Let’s speak about your vision as Managing Director of Zodiac Hurricane. Do you foresee growth in the company? 

Franck Palomba: We definitely foresee growth, and we have seen growth in the last year or so. Increased military spending due to the Eastern European crisis is driving demand from countries worldwide, especially NATO members and allies. There’s a big push for innovation in the business, as customers seek faster, lighter, and more comfortable, and safer equipment. Training is also becoming an important component of our deliverables.We are meeting this growth challenge by adding employees and resources. At Zodiac Hurricane and Zodiac Milpro Group, we prioritize meeting the mission requirements of our end users through customization, even though it presents challenges. It is critical to fulfilling the mission goals of our customers.

MACH II HULL DESIGN 

CDR: What’s your newest platform for naval applications, and what projects or programs are you most excited about? 

Franck Palomba: A key feature of the models that we’re marketing worldwide to the military is our MACH II hull systems, which is a twin step hull design. The MACH II hull design is actually a proprietary design, owned by the Southern California naval architect Michael Peters, who is a world-renowned name in high speed boat hull designs. We have worldwide exclusive access to those designs for RHIBs. So for us, we feel that we are bringing a superior hull shape to market that exceeds expectations in terms of acceleration, performance, and maneuverability to pretty much everything out there on the market. 

The two newest platforms that we have is an 11-meter platform on which we’re incorporating stronger inboard or outboard propulsion systems. For instance, the latest platform that we have delivered to RCMP ERT has outboard propulsion with triple 450 hp engines. It’s very fast and specific to their requirements. Also very successful is our 13-meter aluminum platform which is built here in Vancouver. It’s currently an interceptor platform with quadruple 450 hp Mercury racing engines. We’re proud to announce that we achieved the 68 knots mark, and our next goal is to pass 70 knots.

Operation CARIBBE

ROYAL CANADIAN NAVY 

CDR: Zodiac is building 30 new Multi-Role RHIBs for the Royal Canadian Navy. How is that project going and has it spurred interest from other navies? 

Franck Palomba: So, we’ve had a 9-meter platform with our MACH II design for several years now, whether it be with outboard or inboard propulsion. The platform is available for a variety of operations, so the way the boat is outfitted above the deck addresses the client operation. So, when we talk about a MRB, it’s not really new — we’ve been producing a nine meter interceptor for military and police operations for several years now. The MRB version you’re referring to is the Canadian Navy’s vision of the perfect multirole platform for their operations, so it’s a systems integration task to bring all of the features required to meet that operational requirement. To answer your question the first MRBs are being delivered and the program is moving along well.

CDR: Earlier you mentioned boats are lighter, faster and more comfortable, so how else do you see your industry evolving? 

Franck Palomba: In days gone by most of these military RHIBs were primarily ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore workboats. A big trend right now is the small boat platform will be more and more integrated with a mothership and the RHIBs are becoming an extension of the main ship capabilities. They now carry a sophisticated array of electronics that basically extend the sensor systems of the mothership out to the horizon and back.

CDR: Thank you.

Joetey Attariwala is CDR’s Senior Staff Writer

 

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