Growing up, my family always vacationed in northern Michigan in July, and always on lakefront property; we’re all big lake people. This is a tradition that happily continues every summer, even now. My uncle has a little Sunfish sailboat that originally belonged to my grandparents, and we take turns going out with him if we all happen to be there the same week. Now, I am no skipper by any stretch of the imagination, but I swear, nothing beats that feeling, when the wind picks up and all of sudden you’re flying through the water. I’m sure this feeling intensifies when you’re on something even bigger, like the Land Rover BAR yacht.
As we know, the Land Rover BAR team (BAR stands for Ben Ainslie Racing) teamed up with engineering, metrology, and additive manufacturing company Renishaw starting in December 2015, so Renishaw could help the team improve their racing performance for the America’s Cup race with metal 3D printing. Highlighted on the countdown clock at the top the Land Rover BAR team’s website homepage, the big race is getting closer every day: the America’s Cup qualifiers begin in Bermuda on May 26th, and the team will need every advantage they can get to beat their competitors.The Land Rover BAR team was formed by four-time Olympic gold medalist, and 34th winner of the America’s Cup, Sir Ben Ainslie, back in 2014. According to the website, the team has had a great season so far: out of nine total races, they’ve had four event wins, a second place in Chicago, and two third place trophies. The Land Rover BAR’s Technical Innovation Group (TIG), powered by PA Consulting, always tries to use the most groundbreaking techniques, like additive manufacturing, to gain an advantage over their competitors.
Renishaw is a TIG partner, and the collaboration between the two gives the Land Rover BAR yacht a leg (or fin?) up in the water. While the TIG makes good use of both its traditional machine shop and its additive manufacturing shop, they’ll always choose additive manufacturing if they can, because the cost of making custom parts can be reduced significantly if it can be 3D printed. We’ve seen this before, in terms of spare metal parts 3D printed on demand for a bakery and the beverage industry, among others.
TIG project manager, George Sykes of PA Consulting, said, “An example is the end cap for the boat’s bowsprit. This is a complex shape, designed to reduce the aerodynamic drag. It was ideal for 3D printing because there was no load involved, and a single item was required. In years gone by this would have been built in carbon fiber to the finish specs and standards of a piece of custom furniture, and at great expense due to the time and skill of those involved. Now, once the design has been developed it can be produced in a handful of hours at a much lower cost.”
This complex shape is additively manufactured from 0.5mm layers of extremely fine metallic powder, about the consistency of cornflower. Inside an argon inert atmosphere, heat is then applied, with a laser beam, to the metal power to melt it without burning. Software controlled mirrors direct the path of the laser, and are “focused to accurately weld the areas required to create the part.”
Sykes said, “There was a high compressive load involved and it needed good resistance to wear, so metal was the ideal choice. All high strength metals have a higher density (weight per volume) than carbon fiber, so to keep weight down the final design was hollow. It would have been very difficult to make this part any other way than additive manufacturing.”
Several parts for the yacht’s hydraulics have been additively manufactured by Renishaw, though the team can’t say much more this close to the big race. The stakes are high, after all: Britain has never won the America’s Cup, and the Land Rover BAR team wants to change this. That’s why the TIG was formed, to discover and apply the latest innovative technologies, and further develop them in order to give the team that necessary edge to win.The team is already in Bermuda, and two days ago revealed their R1 racing boat and opened the Team 11th Hour Racing Exploration Zone. According to the team’s Facebook page, it took three years, 85,000 hours of design, building, and testing, and a work force of 120 people to create the R1, which has a top speed of 60 mph.
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO, Land Rover BAR, said of the R1, “It sort of represents all of our hope, all our expectation, all of the work that’s been done by so many people.”