This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of OnWindows
In June 2017, the Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team will join several other sailing clubs from across the world to compete in the 35th America’s Cup race in Bermuda in a bid to take the title from current champions Team Oracle USA. Led by British Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie, the UK team will sail in a 62ft wing-sailed AC62 catamaran designed to ‘fly’ above the water on hydrofoils at speeds near 50mph.
Building a boat for such a demanding race is challenging. “Unlike most sports competitions which are held according to a fixed schedule, the America’s Cup takes place whenever a qualified yacht club challenges the current trophy holders – this means there could be one year between the races, or there could be a decade,” explains Andy Claughton, technical director at BAR. “The uncertainty surrounding the next race means that we only have one chance to get it right.”
In addition, competitors are prohibited from sailing their boats until 150 days before the event, which means that BAR’s 22-strong engineering team will need to largely rely on 3D virtual modelling technology to design and optimise the boat’s structure and onboard operating systems.
BAR has teamed up with Siemens PLM Software UK, and its professional services partner Majenta PLM, to leverage its product lifecycle management, NX, Teamcenter and Femap software to design, simulate, test and refine the boat’s structure and onboard systems before manufacturing it. BAR will have access to any new software updates and Siemens’ engineering expertise for at least three years.
According to Claughton, this will offer multiple benefits. “Ideally, we want to spend as long as possible on the design phase to ensure that each component is optimised and that the boat will perform well in a variety of different scenarios before we finalise its structure,” he explains. “The beauty of the NX system is that we can quickly go from a paper sketch to a fully functional virtual 3D model that can be extensively fine-tuned and reworked.”
Fundamentally, using the NX software will enable BAR to create the basic 3D structure of the boat, capture the dimensions and then link all of the different components using parametric modelling techniques.
“This will allow us to experiment with the shape, size, thickness or weight of different individual components and be confident that each time we make an alteration – such as increasing the width of the hull – all of the other components will be updated in real time,” says Claughton, explaining that this will ensure the team always has access to a fully functional 3D representation of the boat. “Without these parametric capabilities, we would need to manually restart the whole design process every time we wanted to alter a component, which would waste time, resources and money.”
Meanwhile, Siemens’ Femap software will be used to perform finite element analyses, allowing the engineering team to identify how they can improve the overall structure and aerodynamic performance of the boat. For example, they can pinpoint the components that need to be strengthened, or those that need to be lightweighted to increase balance.
“Working with 3D models allows us to create computational fluid dynamics simulations to test how the boat will flow through the water and how it will perform in different sailing conditions,” says Claughton, adding that this will help the sailing team to train for different eventualities.
Using simulation software will also help BAR to accelerate the final manufacturing processes.
“Ideally, we want to be able to make the final race boat in as short a timeframe as possible because this will give us the maximum amount of time to fine-tune the structure of the boat,” explains Claughton. “NX allows us to simulate various manufacturing processes and accurately calculate how long it will take to build the final boat. Not only will this assist with planning our production schedule and meet our deadlines, it will also enable us to find ways to optimise these processes.”
BAR has already used the NX system to build and launch its first 45ft prototype boat, and to mould the material for the second test boat, which it aims to debut in mid-2015. “We will continue to refine the structure of these boats and by the end of this year, we expect to make a lot of the major decisions about the final design of the AC62 competition boat.”
While the BAR team has a long way to go before it finalises the AC62 boat, Claughton is confident that the America’s Cup trophy is well within BAR’s grasp. “Siemens’ software will enable us to design an aerodynamic boat that will perform well in various sailing conditions and we have a strong, talented sailing team – of course we will win!”