Where magic hap­pens

The Amer­ica’s Cup has evolved a great deal since its in­cep­tion. But one boat­builder is per­haps re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing about the most ground­break­ing changes – and it’s right here in New Zealand.

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY BEN GLAD­WELL

The high-tech fa­cil­ity in Wark­worth that’s be­come one of the world’s hottest car­bon fi­bre spe­cial­ists.

There’s an old adage about ‘books-and-their-cov­ers’ T that ap­plies per­fectly to Wark­worth’s Core Builders Composites (CBC) – a com­pany that’s been a fun­da­men­tal part of Team USA’S Or­a­cle boats over the last few Amer­ica’s Cup events. It’s not un­til you’re ac­tu­ally in­side the build­ing that you re­alise it’s some­thing spe­cial. The mod­est ex­te­rior and sim­ple 90s dé­cor be­lies the fact that this place is re­spon­si­ble for some of sail­ing’s most ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy.

Turn­ing off Wark­worth’s main drag, I be­gan look­ing for a big, flashy place with large signs and Or­a­cle lo­gos. Were it not for Google Maps ping­ing that I’d ar­rived, I’d have driven past it. But once in­side, it hits you. This build­ing helped trans­form the sport of yacht­ing, and cer­tainly the Amer­ica’s Cup, into what it is to­day. Af­ter a short wait, I’m greeted by di­rec­tor Mark Turner. Turner, a boat­builder by trade, has been work­ing with Larry El­li­son since the days of his maxi mono­hull Say­onara and helped set up CBC

in 2001. I start off with “OK, I want to tell peo­ple what’s spe­cial about this com­pany – about the tech­nol­ogy and spe­cial ca­pa­bil­i­ties you have here – and how it helps make some­thing amaz­ing, like an Amer­ica’s Cup cam­paign and this new Sail GP se­ries hap­pen.”

Turner, very direct, is off. “To start with, one of the bits of ma­chin­ery we have here, which I guess you could call spe­cial, is a very large five-axis CNC ma­chine. It dic­tated us choos­ing this build­ing – the old Rod­ney Times print fa­cil­ity – in the first place. It has a six-me­tre-high stud, which is what we needed for the ma­chine’s three-me­tre Z axis. The ma­chine it­self has an op­er­a­tional en­ve­lope of eighteen me­tres by six me­tres by three me­tres. And it is ac­cu­rate to 0.02mm.”

Sounds im­pres­sive, right? But the ma­chine’s stats are just the tip of its op­er­a­tional ice­berg. Through­out its var­i­ous pro­duc­tion stages, a com­po­nent might come into con­tact with the CNC fa­cil­ity many times. From the ini­tial cre­ation of a com­po­nent’s mould, right through to post-pro­duc­tion ma­chin­ing and pol­ish­ing.

“It has a va­ri­ety of ap­pli­ca­tions. It lets us do very large, sin­gle-piece moulds, so we can build plugs [mod­els of a part, from which a mould is cre­ated] for yacht hulls or, in­deed, other struc­tures which are non-ma­rine re­lated. Right now, though, it’s spend­ing a lot of time do­ing post-ma­chin­ing as part of the Ap­pendage Pro­gramme (the hy­dro­foils) for the Sail GP boats.”

At CBC, re­peat­able ac­cu­racy is key, par­tic­u­larly for the Ap­pendage Pro­gramme – re­spon­si­ble for the 36 hy­dro­foils used by all the six boats in the Sail GP event. The CBC team be­gins by dig­i­tally cre­at­ing the ideal shape for the hy­dro­foil on the com­puter be­fore us­ing the CNC ma­chine to carve the shape from a tool­ing com­pound. The re­sult­ing part is called a plug and it’s a replica of what the fi­nal part will look like.

A car­bon fi­bre layer is placed around the out­side of the plug and cooked in an oven, cre­at­ing a mould. Car­bon fi­bre is used for the mould be­cause it be­haves the same way as the fin­ished com­po­nent will dur­ing later ‘cook­ing phases’, thereby re­mov­ing ther­mal ex­pan­sion as a po­ten­tial source of er­ror.

Once the mould’s cooked and cured, more than 250 in­di­vid­ual lay­ers of car­bon fi­bre are ap­plied – each about 0.3mm thick – into the mould to slowly build up the shape and in­ter­nal struc­ture of the hy­dro­foil.

Foils are cooked in four sep­a­rate stages to en­sure each sec­tion cures prop­erly. Fi­nally, the hy­dro­foil is re­turned to the CNC ma­chine for post-pro­duc­tion ma­chin­ing. It is this fi­nal stage, where the foil is given its fi­nal shape and a mir­rorsmooth fin­ish, that makes it a piece of hy­dro­dy­namic wiz­ardry, pro­vid­ing max­i­mum lift with min­i­mum drag.

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