Virtually plain sailing

3D computer models and composite materials are a winning combination for UK firm, writes Lindsay Clark

In July, the winner of the first Superyacht Cup sailed to victory at Cowes 2012. The means of propulsion may date back at least to the ancient Egyptians, but the fabric and structure of the winning yacht WallyCento Hamilton belong in the 21st century.

Designed by Judel/Vrolijk and built by Green Marine, the yacht relied heavily on composite materials engineered by specialists at STRUCTeam, a small firm based on the Isle of Wight.

Designs of composite materials, such as carbon fibre, are driven by the manufacturing process itself, says Radek Michalik, technical director at STRUCTeam, which also designs for civil engineers and wind turbine manufacturers. “You need to understand the manufacturing capabilities of the clients to be able to produce the optimum design,” he says.

STRUCTeam uses software from Dassault Systèmes, together with in-house applications, to build 3D computer models that can rapidly incorporate feedback from customers. “Composite materials are unique in the respect that you build your structure and material at the same time,” says Mr Michalik. “You place the layers, which form the structure, based on the geometry of the part. You need to have sufficient [software] tools to be able to model it.”

Engineers integrate new information into the model using a process called parametric design, which allows changes to the geometry frame and other design parameters to cascade through a computer model rapidly, he adds. “It is very easy to see the consequences of your changes,” he says. As a result, engineers can be more efficient and accurately trace design changes in everything they produce.

In the case of high-performance yachts, this means the STRUCTeam can get it right first time. “You cannot afford to have a full-sized prototype of a superyacht. You have to use your competence and tools to build using virtual prototypes only,” Mr Michalik says.

For customers in other sectors, it can slash time to market by cutting the number of prototypes necessary. “Without this kind of solution we would not be as efficient and we would not be where we are today,” he says.