Designing world-class sailing yachts with NX
Biscontini Yacht Design
America’s Cup yacht designer dramatically cuts development time using NX
Extensive testing enables shortened foil modeling time and more refined designs
Roberto Biscontini considers himself lucky because he has turned his greatest passion – sailing yacht design – into his profession. This passion dates back to high school when he and a friend designed and built a 26-foot, quarter ton sailing yacht with which they won several races on the Adriatic in 1976.
The owner of the Biscontini Yacht Design studio, based in Milan, originally designed his first hulls with pencil and paper, when the only “technological” aid was a calculator. Technological development has made great leaps forward during the decades of Biscontini’s career. Today, he relies on the use of NX™ software from Siemens PLM Software to help him design and simulate sailing yacht performance virtually on computers.
After graduating high school, Biscontini enrolled at the Southampton Institute in England, where he earned a degree in sailing yacht design in 1981. After working for several years at a design consultancy, he established his own design firm in Milan in 1985. Four years later, he began designing sailing yachts for teams racing in the famous America’s Cup competition, working with II Moro di Venezia, Pact95, Young America, Oracle Racing, Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand.
Biscontini recalls his work with Moro di Venezia back in 1992: “In those days, we still worked in 2D on a PC (personal computer) with a 286 processor. Since then, the evolution of technology has been powerful and unstoppable, both in the development of sailing yachts and in the related design technology. Before I joined the Moro di Venezia team, I had already become familiar with Siemens PLM Software’s solutions during a visit to their Italian headquarters. Their CAD (computer-aided design) software was just emerging, but it showed huge potential. When I joined Moro di Venezia, I convinced management that it was necessary to use CAD technology to design the new boat.”
Collaboration is essential in yacht development
Biscontini works in a very small niche within the shipbuilding industry, designing sailing yachts exclusively, focusing on fast racing sailing yachts and cruising yachts. His customers are private owners as well as America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race teams.
“Generally speaking, private customers are transforming into real teams that take part in these and other competitions,” notes Biscontini. “The working method has changed accordingly. Teams distributed in different nations are created and work in full synergy and collaboration, using modern technology tools, conference calls and high-speed networks. Within project teams, collaboration has become central, with an accurate division of tasks among all designers, from sails to masts, from structures to materials, up to fluid dynamics.
“In the project I am currently involved in for the new Luna Rossa hull, for instance, the team includes designers from Italy, the United States, New Zealand, France and England. Until a few years ago, we all had to relocate for long periods, while today traveling is minimized, basically limited to the moment when the sailing yacht is put into water. This transition was enabled by computer-based design, electronic mail and even more by cloud technology, which enables everyone to work on the same data archive, uploading and downloading files with controlled check-in and checkout mechanisms.”
Upgrading to 3D with NX
The Biscontini Yacht Design studio was officially created in Milan in 1985 and, like most designers, Biscontini began working with 2D design tools. Over the years, the activity of the studio evolved and computers soon became commodities – high-performance machines that are affordable for small companies and individual designers.
“I was aware that there were sophisticated design solutions, such as Catia, NX and Pro/Engineer, to mention only the most popular products,” Biscontini says. “When I decided to upgrade to 3D, I opted for NX, based on my familiarity with the tool and previous experience using this system. From the moment I started to design, I have always thought I would use NX in my studio. NX is highly suitable for the needs of small companies and individual designers, not only for big organizations.
“All my colleagues and America’s Cup teams use the software packages I mentioned before. Though I know I probably use only 10 percent of the potential of 3D CAD technology, I must say it’s a different world compared to 2D drawing, especially NX. Compared to other niche applications we still use occasionally, NX has a very tidy and intuitive graphical interface, combined with excellent visualization. It is very easy for a designer to work on the model, zoom in and out, inspect intersections and fillets between different parts, model and check all surfaces and splines accurately. NX stands out for the intuitive and easy control of curves and 3D surfaces.”
One of the key factors for Biscontini’s original decision to move to CAD is parameterization, which is very useful for work that often involves design elements featuring repetitive and re-usable parts – not just helms and keels, but also sails and, often, hulls. Biscontini explains, “The parameterization capabilities of NX offer significant advantages over other systems, because with NX it’s much easier to re-use parts. Don’t forget that America’s Cup has changed from traditional monohull sailing yachts to modern wing-sailed catamarans. Therefore, even sails have turned into elements that are very similar to airplane wings. Their behavior is more stable and more predictable than fabric sails, so you can study and simulate them even better with CAD.”
Faster design process, more extensive virtual testing
The rise of catamarans in the America’s Cup has resulted in the disappearance of keels and the introduction of foils, which are essentially movable keels. “From a design perspective, we had to start over from scratch,” says Biscontini. “With a sophisticated and efficient tool like NX, we could re-create all the geometry and surfaces of new sailing yachts very quickly. The working approach has changed, but the software and its benefits are the same.”
Besides speeding up the design process, the use of NX has helped increase the company’s ability to perform tests in the virtual sphere, enabling the checking of several design variants and options using specific computational fluid dynamics (CFD) programs that can analyze the hydrodynamic and aerodynamic performance of the water racers. NX is employed to model entire families of foils, which are then applied to the hull model and sent to the CFD software to evaluate their performance and select the most suitable solutions to send to manufacturing.
Biscontini explains, “NX is an ideal tool for design exploration, as its parameterization capabilities enable you to develop many alternative foils very quickly. Based on CFD analysis results, we can anticipate the behavior of a sailing yacht in different race conditions, reaching or running downwind, with strong or light wind speeds. Starting from the models designed with NX, it takes only two days to obtain the results, and this is essential in a world like the America’s Cup, where professionalism is taken to extremes and the only things that matter are rules, specifications and project deadlines.”
The “magic” of sailing is also obvious with Biscontini Yacht Design’s private customers, where projects begin with a personal meeting of the buyers and designers. According to Biscontini, private owners may not have very clear ideas from the start, but they are very fond of sailing, often aficionados, and love to be involved in the project. So building a close and friendly relationship between buyers and designers typically results in greater collaboration, a more productive process and a singularly beautiful sailing yacht.