Sailing may not be the sport people immediately associate with boundary-pushing innovation. It’s more likely to produce images of boats languidly floating through the water. (Or to conjure a certain song by Christopher Cross.) However, spend a few minutes with New York Yacht Club’s American Magic team and it’s clear that it’s all high tech on the high seas.
On a mission to win next year’s America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in international sports, the American Magic team has spent years designing, building and perfecting a hydrofoil yacht capable of reaching speeds upwards of 50 knots (almost 60 miles per hours) and capturing the highest prize in sailing. And behind the engineering marvel is a crew of more than 120 people — 37 designers and engineers, 37 boat builders, 21 sailors and many more.
One of the designers, Robyn Lesh, recently visited the University of Minnesota to speak with students about how 3D printing is improving the team’s performance, on and off the water. Lesh oversees the weight and center of gravity for the boats, relying on 3D printing to optimize parts across the craft. From weight to strength to complexity, she helps refine and reimagine all aspects of the vessel, and can do so with quick turnaround.
Lesh uses a Statasys Fortus 450mc to create mockups and molds to produce both complex prototypes 3D printed final parts for the boat. The speed at which they can produce new parts gives them a competitive edge. A part that would usually take two or more days to mold and construct, only takes hours with the Fortus 450.
One of Lesh’s key responsibilities is making sure the 75-foot boats stay within the regulation weight of 6,520 kilograms with a tolerance of 1% for scale accuracy. That’s a challenge, especially when you can consider the boat weighs more when it’s wet and even depending on how close it is to the equator. “We have precise tracking system for every part that goes on and off the boat,” Lesh says. “We try to save grams any way we can.”
If the team needs to create a new part, Lesh takes the request back to the drawing board and ideates how she can make it lighter without compromising strength or perform better without adding weight. Additive manufacturing allows the team to avoid adding unnecessary mass thanks in part to the variety of materials and freedom of design. They are able to cut weight and cut across the water faster with creativity and adaptability.
America’s Cup is held every four years, with the next championship race taking place in Auckland, New Zealand in March 2021.