Case Study

Boat layout is smooth sailing with solids


Yacht maker uses Solid Edge to optimize the interior configuration of its elegant and highly engineered sailboats and powerboats


Precision is key for Hinckley to design stronger, faster and safer yachts.

Every inch counts

The Hinckley Company makes yachts that are known worldwide for the beauty of their designs and the fit and finish of their interior joinery. But on Hinckley sailboats and powerboats, even parts that aren’t visible might be considered works of art. Machinery, tanks and other equipment must be creatively arranged below the deck to make the best use of space. Engineers at Hinckley use Solid Edge® computer-aided design software from Siemens to optimize a boat’s interior configuration. “Every inch in the cabin is precious and we work hard to maximize the amount of living area,” explains Peter Smith, engineering manager at The Hinckley Company. “Solid Edge helps in this by letting us create assembly models representing all the interior components – wooden elements as well as plumbing and mechanical systems. With these models we’ve been able to shrink tolerances and achieve tighter fits.”

Based in Southwest Harbor, Maine, The Hinckley Company has been building boats since 1928. Its product line includes powerboats ranging in size from 29 feet to 55 feet as well as sailboats starting at 42 feet and going up to 70 feet. Although Hinckley yachts are famous for their beauty, an equal factor in the company’s success has been its focus on engineering and technology. For example, the company has been a pioneer in hull construction, setting new standards for the marine industry in terms of stiffness, strength and impact resistance. “Our line of thinking has always been, ‘How can we make a yacht stronger, faster, safer?’ ” says Smith.

Hinckley yachts’ interiors receive equal attention. The cabins rival the classiest of living rooms, equipped with tastefully designed, handsomely crafted furnishings. A team of eleven engineers and drafters is responsible for interior layout of a yacht, which includes everything besides the hull and deck: cabin furnishings and interior carpentry as well as tanks, plumbing and mechanical systems. The interior configuration is standard on powerboats; once a new model is introduced, the engineers’ work is mostly done. Sailboats are another story. The bigger they get, the more customization is involved, to the point where the interior of a 70-foot sailboat (price tag: $4+ million) is a highly custom design.

2D required a fudge factor

CAD wasn’t in the picture when the first Hinckley boat was designed 75 years ago. But the company was a relatively early adopter of design automation technology, acquiring a 2D CAD package in 1989 and growing with it to 3D wireframe over the years. However, there were drawbacks to this package that led the company to consider a new upgrade by the late 1990s. Conveying information to subcontractors by means of drawings was limited, for example, and sometimes resulted in miscommunication. More importantly in terms of boat layout, 2D and wireframe modeling necessitated high tolerances. “Because we had no easy way to check fit, we erred on the side of caution,” says Smith. “Our tolerances were high to make sure things would go together properly when we assembled the boat.” In the luxury yacht business, where every inch is valuable, this was not acceptable. “Once we learned about solid modeling and how it would let us check fit in software, we realized it would be much more effective for our needs,” Smith adds.

High on the list of criteria for the solid modeling software was assembly modeling functionality. A boat interior can consist of as many as 1,000 components, and Smith’s ultimate plan was to create digital assembly models representing everything. After a six-month evaluation of several mainstream and high-end solid modelers, the company chose Solid Edge. Not only did this program meet the requirement for robust assembly modeling functionality, it was the only one they evaluated that could import Hinckley’s legacy data. “Other programs had trouble handling some of our larger drawings,” says Smith. “With Solid Edge, we’re able to import our old files in IGES or DXF format, regardless of size and work with them with complete accuracy.”

Better fits and fewer changes

With Solid Edge, the process of laying out a boat’s interior begins once the hull and deck shapes have been sent to Hinckley from an outside contractor that specializes in exterior design. The information comes in as surface models created with MultiSurf, a marine design program from Aerohydro Inc. After the information is imported into Solid Edge, separate groups of engineers begin the task of fitting interior components within the hull and deck shapes. Some work on machinery, others on tankage and plumbing, others on interior carpentry and so on. Engineers doing the layout of the plumbing (exhaust lines, fuel lines, seawater intake lines, etc.) use Solid Edge’s XpresRoute, an integrated add-on package that rapidly routes and models wires, cables and rigid or flexible tubing for hydraulic or pneumatic systems. This module lets engineers quickly define properties such as size and color, and paths between other components. After defining these parameters, they can automatically create 3D solid models of the tubes, complete with end treatments. Tubing components are dynamically associative to the components they connect, so that they automatically adjust when changes are made in related parts.

Initially different groups of engineers work separately but eventually they combine their subassembly models into a single digital model representing the entire boat interior. “With each release, Solid Edge gets faster at handling our large assemblies,” says Smith. “As a result, we continually add more detail to our models.” Having a single assembly model containing all interior systems makes it possible to detect interferences among the various elements. It also lets engineers fine-tune the layout to optimize fit. The ability to visualize part relationships with 3D solid models is so much better compared to drawings that Hinckley has been able to narrow its tolerances significantly and achieve tighter fits. Visualization has also improved the accuracy of their work overall, which is seen in the lower number of engineering changes since Solid Edge was adopted. “The degree of accuracy and confidence is way up with Solid Edge,” Smith adds.

For Hinckley, a company that combines tradition and technology so seamlessly in its yachts, the move to Solid Edge has been smooth sailing. This solid modeler provides the robustness the company needed to create large assemblies of boat interiors and brings the level of precision in interior layout up to that of the yachts’ finely crafted exteriors.

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