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CAD, PLM helps small companies communicate big dreams

CAD, PLM helps small companies communicate big dreams

Although it's been said before, engineers really do need 3D software to be taken seriously in design. It's not just for large companies either. Perhaps a more substantial investment for small companies, 3D software enables David to compete with Goliath.

Consider Yves Parlier: in the world of sailing, he is a giant-an accomplished hero with several regatta victories to his name, as well as national fame in France for persisting through the Vendee Globe (around-the-world race) despite spending two weeks of the race doing a solo repair of his boat. In the world of engineering however, Parlier is an Everyman. A composite engineer and the idea man behind his sailboats, Parlier works with a small design crew and faces the same challenges as engineers working for the huge shipbuilding industry-his boat needs to stay afloat across the Atlantic too.

To make a sailboat that not only stays afloat and in one piece-a legitimate concern after the mishaps at Vendee Globe-but also one that is made for speed, Parlier and his design team made a number of advancements, beginning with the design software. "You cannot design a boat now without 3D software," says Parlier. But his motivation was two-fold: from an engineering standpoint, he wanted the best design possible, while from a financial standpoint, the software would enable him to show designs of his sailboat to potential sponsors, making it more likely that he would be taken seriously.

With five seats of Dassault Systemes' CATIA design software purchased in 2001, the Aquitaine design team decided on a 60-ft, multi-hull design since the hydrofoil was not strong enough for the high seas. After eliminating a trimaran design (three hulls) and going through 13 original designs, they chose a lightweight, 15-m wide catamaran (two hulls). The two hulls use a stepped underwater profile to reduce drag from the water so that, essentially, the boat glides on top of the water, with the only contact between the hulls and the water measuring about 3m2.

The mast design also presented an innovative plan. Two masts, one on each hull, made for a more stable boat that avoided a lot of problems associated with trimarans, which use a single, center mast that requires heavy crossbeams for support. Instead, the double-mast design divided the work originally done by one sail between two sails. And since the Aquitaine now had reduced drag (that is, reduced drag when traveling at over 20 knots), the masts could afford to be shorter-24m, compared to the 30.5m generally used. The boat also featured a lighter crossbeam, an aerofoil profile spacer bar, to separate and support the masts. Overall, the combination of less drag, lighter weight, and a more narrow design, compared to a trimaran, means a promising future for the Aquitaine.

CATIA enabled the quick design of the catamaran, thanks to the ability to recycle old designs. But for Parlier, the design software already has a particularly personal value; it allows him to communicate with his design team when at sea. Although his onboard computer (the only onboard computer in the Transat race from England to Boston) does not yet feature CATIA, he plans to incorporate it within the year. "The composite construction is complex," Parlier says. "You must know how it is built. If you know how it is built, you know how to rebuild it." He speaks from his own Vendee Globe experience.

Of course, the Aquitaine's design, and voyage to Boston, could have possibly not taken place at all had Parlier not received any sponsorship. For the record, he did succeed in obtaining such sponsors as Mediatis, Region Aquitaine, and also France Telecom, but he's also quick to credit his software. "We need to be able to communicate with the sponsor," he says. "It shows we're serious if we have 3D designs." Using Dassault Systemes' SmarTeam PLM software, Parlier took advantage of the program's "fly-through" element, which allows users and potential sponsors to get an inside look at all the parts of the boat. Parlier and his team also use this feature for inspection, to section-cut the boat and make annotations regarding the design.

While Parlier didn't take full advantage of SmarTeam's offerings, he did use PLM for what he deems most important: tracking changes, so that he may review and either avoid making any mistake twice or succeed in implementing positive changes more often.

The Aquitaine is ready to set sail once again, heading for another trans-Atlantic crossing on July 11. However, Parlier expects a better finish than his last-place finish in Boston. The downwind race from Quebec to Saint Malo, France is better suited for the Aquitaine, he says. And this time, he'll have a crew on board with him.


The Aquitaine features shorter-than-average masts, twin hulls made to reduce drag and twin masts, to stabilize the boat, at a shorter-than-average height to cut down on weight.
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