3D printing is having a massive impact across a wide variety of industries, especially in the automotive and aerospace fields, and now the watercraft industry is beginning to benefit from the technology as well. Yacht-racing team, Land Rover Ben Ainsile Racing (BAR) is using 3D printing to give them an upper hand on the competition at the 2017 America’s Cup. The team is utilizing 3D printing for rapid prototyping and the production of end-use parts. This has given the Britain-based team a major advantage as they are no able to make custom parts, on site, while also cutting costs.
Sir Ben Ainsile, the founder of Land Rover BAR, has won 4 Olympic gold medals and 1 American Cup. His constant search to gain a competitive edge – be it analytics, technology, etc. – led to the team’s adoption of 3D printing technology which in turn has undoubtedly given them a technological advantage. According to George Sykes, PA Consulting’s Technical Innovation Group Project Manager,
“We use 3D printing at three different levels within the team…The simplest level is as a prototyping and visualization tool. We manufacture a large number of custom parts and 3D printing allows us to make full-size prototypes in-house before we commit to a design.”
Land Rover BAR has both a machine shop and a 3D printing shop. If they can produce the final part via 3D printing, that is their optimal choice as 3D printing produces the part faster, more accurately and cheaper than traditional production methods.One example of this is the production of the endcap of the boat’s bowsprit which i serves the purpose of reducing aerodynamic drag. Because the endcap has an extremely complex geometry, but is only one single part, 3D printing was the ideal solution for producing the part. Traditionally, the part would be very costly to manufacture and take a significantly longer time to produce. With 3D printing, however, the team is able to develop and produce the design in just a matter of hours, at their own facility.
Land Rover BAR uses printers with Selective Laser Sintering 3D printing technology, very similar to the ProX SLS 500 3D printing system. These printers are usually based on laser technology, but they’re not very similar to your office laser printer. They use a strong laser to selectively fuse granular materials. The strength of objects produced with SLS 3D printers is better than that of Stereolithography 3D printers. New systems take SLS technology directly to the manufacturing floor – all with a low cost and very little time consumption with no CNC programming or tooling necessary. It also has some use as a production method.