Science of speed showcased on Great Sound

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  • Go faster: Artemis Racing's boat performs a manoeuvre in the 35th Americas Cup Challenger playoff finals. One of the daggerboards is visible near the front of the boat. US-company Altair helped to engineer, design and test the daggerboards as they were developed (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Go faster: Artemis Racing's boat performs a manoeuvre in the 35th Americas Cup Challenger playoff finals. One of the daggerboards is visible near the front of the boat. US-company Altair helped to engineer, design and test the daggerboards as they were developed (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

  • Close race: Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand race during the 35th America’s Cup Challenger playoff finals. Daggerboards are visible towards the front of both boats. US-company Altair helped engineer, design and test Artemis Racing’s daggerboards (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Close race: Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand race during the 35th America’s Cup Challenger playoff finals. Daggerboards are visible towards the front of both boats. US-company Altair helped engineer, design and test Artemis Racing’s daggerboards (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

  • David Durocher of Altair (Photograph supplied)

    David Durocher of Altair (Photograph supplied)


As viewers across the world tune in to watch the America's Cup action from Bermuda, there are some who are taking a far keener interest in the smaller details than most.

Engineers and software designers at Michigan-based Altair have a good reason to be watching Artemis Racing — they have skin in the game.

The company has been working with the Artemis team since the start of the 35th America's Cup campaign.

Altair has used its expertise in engineering and computer software to help design and construct the daggerboards for the Artemis boat.

The daggerboards, or foils, are one of the most critical components for the racing team. They are deployed to lift the AC50's twin hulls above the water, reducing drag as the boat races. The foils also transfer side force into forward force.

To succeed in its mission, the Altair team had to achieve and integrate into the daggerboards optimal streamlining, formidable integral strength and lightness of material.

The exactitude of perfection comes down to minuscule changes of less than a millimetre that can result in additional knots of speed on the water.

It is a tall order, but it is exactly the type of challenge on which Altair's team thrives.

“Our company is primarily comprised of energetic and bright engineers so we're naturally inclined to seek out difficult problems and find clever ways to solve them,” David Durocher, Altair engineer, told The Royal Gazette.

“When you couple really interesting design challenges with an active role in one of the longest running competitions in sports, you can't help but get involved, excited and completely absorbed.”

The central role the daggerboards play in aiding Artemis Racing's performance during the America's Cup is a dramatic and highly visible example of what Altair does — but it is only one project in its sizeable portfolio.

For instance, Altair collaborated with aerospace companies Airbus and BAE Systems to design wing ribs for the Airbus A380 jet airliner that met a strict weight target, but also fulfilled load and stress checks, compressive buckling problems and design guidelines.

“The tendency is to be satisfied with a design that works after weeks and weeks of conventional trial and error. A conventional approach can leave upwards of a 40 per cent mass inefficiency,” said Mr Durocher.

Instead, Altair uses computers and software such as its own OptiStruct to analyse, test and tweak structural designs. Doing this on the Airbus project resulted in 500kg weight savings.

Using sophisticated optimisation algorithms, Altair lets the computer work through “hundreds of design iterations and automatically drive towards the lightest weight design that satisfies ten of thousands of checks”.

The company was founded in 1985 and now has regional operations in 22 countries and a staff of more than 2,000.

Its involvement in the America's Cup came when an engineer on the Artemis team, who was familiar with OptiStruct, approached the company. The Swedish team wanted to use OptiStruct's topology optimisation to design more efficient structures on the team's boat, particularly in the development of the composite daggerboards.

The foils are one of the “design freedom areas” where the racing teams can make innovative modifications. Mr Durocher said: “Very small changes of less than a millimetre translate to knots of difference on the water.”

America's Cup teams are allowed four foiling daggerboards and provisions for replacements if damage occurs, but the replacements must be identical in geometry and weight to those created before the competition commenced. Late adjustments are not allowed.

“All the board fine tuning is done leading up to the races, then it is pencils down,” said Mr Durocher.

From its headquarters in Troy, Michigan, the Altair team has been watching the performance of the Artemis Racing in Bermuda with a keen interest in the various components its expertise helped create. However, its engineers have not been needed on the island.

“Artemis has carried forward the work that we did for them on the daggerboards and has not needed our day-to-day involvement since,” said Mr Durocher.

Altair is proud of its role in helping Artemis Racing, and has created a short video, entitled Surface to Air, documenting its involvement and highlighting challenges and innovations created by the AC50 boats.

Having its design work and solutions perform under close scrutiny on the world stage of the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda has been a bonus for the company. And being at the leading edge of development in such a dynamic sport has provided the type of challenge on which the company's engineers, designers and developers thrive.

“We're naturally pushing the envelope of our technology faster when we work actively with our customers,” said Mr Durocher.

“It's the company structure of Altair. We're an engineering consulting company and a commercial software company; we have engineers actively working important problems that are feeding the guys developing the technology with new challenges and great ideas for solving them.”

With so many eyes around the world watching the action in Bermuda, Altair is positioned to attract more interest in its services.

“Altair has a wide range of technologies that are actively applied across all industries where highly engineered products and designs are needed,” said Mr Durocher.

“Whether it's a highly competitive design like the AC50 composite daggerboards, a safer and smarter automobile or a lightweight and more efficient aircraft, you'll see these companies and industries engaging our engineers and using our software to help make better designs.”

Watch the Surface to Air documentary at https://tinyurl.com/yda6u4o8

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Published Jun 13, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Jun 13, 2017 at 12:04 pm)

Science of speed showcased on Great Sound

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