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Doyle Sails has announced the technology and story behind its highly respected, cutting-edge sail technology known as Stratis, which improves performance by reducing weight aloft.
Twenty years ago, in an old-school Auckland sail loft, Doyle Sails’ Richard Bouzaid began experimenting with a new way of building sails utilising an adapted ballpoint pen to direct single fibres onto a substrate in line with the predicted loads.
Although this was a decidedly small beginning, Bouzaid had big ambitions. New Zealand’s superyacht industry was fast gaining global recognition and the country had also just staged its successful defence of the America’s Cup, the first nation outside of the United States to achieve that.
Those early crude experiments were the beginning of big strides towards what eventually became Doyle Sails’ highly respected Stratis system and structurally engineered sails. Utilising multiple fibre types and membranes, Stratis tailors a precision product for specific applications, from weekend warriors and club racers, through grand prix round-the-buoys machines, to round the world campaigners and luxury superyachts.
At the time of those first small steps with Kevlar fibres, Bouzaid was in a Doyle franchise loft in partnership with Chris McMaster, who became a big driver in the development of the new system. In 2017, the ownership of the Doyle Sails International brand was acquired by a partnership of Mike Sanderson, Richard Bouzaid and David Duff. All 50 Doyle lofts around the world rely on the New Zealand operation for their supply of Stratis, ensuring consistent quality in every product. Almost all the custom design is also done in New Zealand with approximately 70% of the Stratis output exported in kitset form for the other lofts to assemble and finish.
“Two things are incredibly important to our manufacturing process,” Bouzaid said. “They are high pressure laminations and a predictable environment.
“Everything is humidity and temperature controlled. We also deploy significant heat sensing monitoring and instrumentation, so that when we laminate, we have an incredible degree of control over the product’s consistency.”
At Doyle Sails’ 11,000m2 purpose-built headquarters in Auckland, the Stratis operation takes place in a separate climate-controlled area, where the sail fabrics are built on three flat platforms - 46 metres (150 feet), 50 metres (164 feet) and 65 metres (213 feet) long, all at 11 metres (36 feet) wide.
The construction process involves laying down a complex matrix of fibres under a combination of vacuum, direct pressure and heat. Fibre combinations of carbon, Technora, Ice, or Polyester are applied in varying ratios depending on the application.
Computer-controlled machines lay down the precise arrangement of fibre threads as they pass backwards and forwards across the panel. Laminating machines exert 12 tonnes of downward pressure and infra-red heat on the surface, fibres and adhesives, which, together with extreme vacuum, ensure void-free lamination of the membrane.
It is highly automated and very efficient. On average the CAD fibre-laying machines travel 150,000 metres (492,125 feet) a week, laying down 1.3 million metres (4.2 million feet) of fibre and consuming nearly 150kg of carbon and 190kg of para-aramids. The flat beds mean a whole range of different size sails, or sections of sails can be built simultaneously, maximizing the production capacity at all times.
“A small sail that would have taken two days to build 20 years ago, would now be ready for finishing in a couple of hours,” noted Bouzaid.
As part of that drive for quality control, Doyle Sails continues to devote resources and attention to research and development. ‘We are always investigating new technologies and looking at new products and refining what we do. That could be process-driven, design-driven, or related to mechanical componentry.
“We have one R&D focus on automation, another on glue, fibre and lamination, while the whole design group is constantly paying close attention to structures. Technology evolves within our own group,” Bouzaid continued, “primarily in New Zealand but also with valuable contributions from lofts within the group all around the world.
“We also work closely with universities and research institutions and have had engineering interns working here on specific projects. A big focus is on making membranes do more and on developing smoother, more durable outer surfaces without adding weight.”
In the past 10 years, with the weight-saving benefits already embedded in the process, attention has focused more on performance and how the sails work. Bouzaid said, “A great deal of what we do now is about how we can manipulate our membranes to do more. It is not just about sails retaining rigid shapes. Our structures are designed to be manipulated, hence the evolution of Structured Luff and Cableless sails.”
Advances in sail technology also feed back into broader areas of performance and design. On their own, lighter, stronger sails reduce weight aloft, which improves performance, but Structured Luff and Cableless sails also reduce loads, placing less demand on rigs and supporting structures.
“We are able to take load away from the mast and stays and carry more load in the sails,” said Bouzaid. “There are big gains being made there.” This has obvious benefits in racing applications, but also creates a virtuous cycle in superyachts, where reduced loads and weight can lead to smaller engines, reduced fuel consumption and better sailing performance.
As to the future, Bouzaid says tools developed in-house and the ongoing research into how all aspects of rig and sail systems interface are revealing things operators and designers could never see before and will lead to significant improvements in aerodynamics and all areas of performance.
“Increasingly, sails are going to be a lot more intelligent and provide a great deal of information through monitoring systems, fibre optics and data-streaming, much of which is coming from grand prix race programmes.
“Sails will probably look quite similar, but they will be doing much more than they are doing now.” Just as the technology has made astonishing strides in the past 20 years, Bouzaid predicts there will be no let-up in the pace going forward. “You will be staggered by the progress,” he said.
Source: Seahorse Magazine
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