Additive manufacturing turns into a powerful tool for designing and building components. America’s Cup teams lead the way, as an Artemis engineer explained to us.
The America’s Cup has always been a laboratory for new technological developments, even more so since the foiling catamaran revolution. Nowhere else in sailing will budgets allow entire teams of engineers and designers to work for years, optimizing every little part and every process involved in designing and building a boat.
Now, 3D printing has arrived on the scene, rapidly growing into an important weapon in the combat for “the Auld Mug,” the America’s Cup trophy. For insiders, additive manufacturing is the more precise term, indicating how the process really works: 3D design files are sent to a production facility where the item is produced automatically according to specifications in the file. Specialized machines are able to add micro-layers of material, one on top of the other, fusing them together with lasers until the final piece emerges.
For quite some time, materials have been limited to plastics and composites, but now even metals can be processed using additive manufacturing. Fine metal powder is added in layers of about 0.05 millimeters.
This new manufacturing method makes it possible to produce components with great accuracy and with specifications impossible with normal metal manufacturing. Production can be rapid and limited to only one item, if that’s what’s needed.
Hydraulics are core components on America’s Cup catamarans, and strong, lightweight efficient parts are in high demand. Additive manufacturing is well suited to exactly that.
Time is also a very important parameter for any professional sailing team. With additive manufacturing, designers can create a part ready for testing on the water the next day.
Some America’s Cup teams report cost savings, while others experience higher costs, probably depending on how the technology is implemented.