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The Winning Edge: How Cutting-Edge Technologies like Digital Twins are the Key to Success in the America’s Cup

While six teams are getting ready to race and win the 37th edition of the America’s Cup (AC37), taking place between August and October 2024 in Barcelona, Spain, only one team will take home the glory. The race, like all the America’s Cup races, will be grueling. The America’s Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy – dating back to 1851 – and is considered one of the most difficult endeavors in racing. 

One of this edition’s contenders is the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team, which is hoping to bring the Cup back to their native Italy next year. To do so, they’ll require a great team equipped with a state-of-the-art yacht. To meet the yacht development challenges the team faces, their engineers are working closely with Altair, a global leader in computational science and artificial intelligence (AI), leveraging structural simulation, high-performance computing (HPC), and data analytics

 

Development Challenges: The Rules of the 37th America’s Cup

To design a successful yacht, America’s Cup teams face a variety of external constraints. The main constraints are the competition’s rules. Engineering teams must follow these rules not only in the boats’ final design, but also during their design and development phases. In general, these rules prohibit teams from using certain tools, prototypes, and testing methods to ensure a reasonable level of competitive parity. In the AC37, teams must use the “AC75” foiling boat class, meaning a 75-foot-long monohull racing yacht. Within this class, there are further design limitations, including caps on the number of foils and other key components. And on top of all these limitations, the competition also places a premium on cost reduction, meaning teams can’t spend their way out of design or development challenges.

 

 

Using simulation, HPC, and data analytics tools in the development process helped the Luna Rossa engineering team quickly identify components with the highest potential for optimization. Video courtesy of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

The previous edition of the America’s Cup, the AC36, also utilized the AC75 boat class. As such, the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team’s biggest challenge is to quickly identify components, systems, and structures ripe for significant performance improvements. When the team built their boats for the AC36, it was a revolution – something entirely new and innovative. This time, all boats will be based on the models used in the AC36 and will thus represent an evolution, rather than a revolution, in racing yacht design. This means that the team that can identify and implement the most substantial margins of performance gain will likely be the team that comes out on top. Therefore, the engineers need to focus their effort on the areas most likely to yield success from the get-go.

“The boat that we will see in this competition will be an evolution of the one we used during the last America’s Cup in 2021,” said Alessandro Franceschetti, head of structural engineering for the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team. “The rules changed, and there are modifications. However, all teams acquired fundamental knowledge in the last race and already have a baseline or trend in their development they follow when building the second boat. The team that can find creative solutions – by going out of their comfort zone and exploring new ideas – will be the one with the best chance to win.” 

 

Smart Development

To tackle the myriad of design challenges and competitive pressures they face, the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team is working closely with Altair during the AC37 campaign. Crucially, this partnership extends far beyond software tools. Not only are Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli engineers using Altair’s solutions, they’re also leveraging the on-site expertise and experience of Altair engineers, who are directly integrated with their team. This is helping the team quickly screen components and systems and identify the ones that are most likely to benefit from promising performance gains via optimization

“Applying simulation, HPC, and data analytics is a very powerful combo that makes our development more efficient,” Franceschetti said. “Being able to identify and optimize components and models with industry-leading tools gives us the best possible chance to improve our yacht’s performance.” 

 

The Benefits of Convergence

To be clear, the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team is no stranger to Altair’s capabilities. During the AC36 campaign, the team utilized Altair’s robust structural simulation portfolio. But in the AC37 campaign, they’ve taken utilization to the next level. Now, the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team is leveraging even more of Altair’s technology. All this is boosted by the presence of Altair experts working alongside the team. 


Altair technology helps give the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team an edge in the America’s Cup. Image courtesy of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

This expanded toolkit has enhanced the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team’s capabilities. Leveraging Altair’s HPC tools during the first phase of the development process helped speed up component screening to identify those with the highest potential for optimization. With Altair’s HPC tools, users can submit jobs, i.e. many different optimization tasks or large, compute-heavy simulations in parallel instead of having to submit one after the other or wait for the results. This allows engineers to obtain quicker results. And when engineers can obtain quicker results, it allows them to optimize components and systems quicker – thus speeding the entire development process. Thanks to HPC, this all happens in a fraction of the time needed before.

In the America’s Cup – both in development and the races themselves – time is of the essence. The more engineers can achieve in the short window of opportunity they have, the more analysis and optimization they can do. “You need to have upgrades ready in your pocket until the very end,” Franceschetti said. “In the past, there have been teams that started very well but then stopped the development process or arrived on a ‘development plateau’ too early in the campaign. That leads to other teams outpacing them. As such, having upgrades ready to go during the entire campaign, until the very end really, is the key to success.” 

 

Leveraging Digital Twins

Another key to engineering success in the America’s Cup – and beyond – is digital twin technology. Using among other tools the Altair solutions, the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team applies a four-step digital twin concept. 

At the beginning of the digital twin creation, the team uses low-resolution models to quickly single out the ones with the highest optimization potential. Next, the team selects one candidate with which they increase the level of fidelity. For the selected candidate, they build high-resolution models that start to capture more detail; for instance, these models can capture the component’s structural response. Once the digital twin has reached this stage the third level is initiated, enabling the team to use prototype components at a 1:1 scale to validate the results from steps one and two. The prototypes are fully instrumented and tested in the labs. During this phase, the team can correlate the experimental results with the virtual tests to validate the digital twins.

 

 

Altair's solutions for detailed composite structural analysis improved the Luna Rossa team's designs. Video courtesy of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

Once all pieces (components) of the puzzle are validated, they’re merged into a single digital twin model, which is an accurate virtual representation of the entire boat. The primary benefit of this digital twin is the possibility to monitor the entire system in real time. Input coming from the sensors mounted on the boat is not only used to check the boat, it’s also fed back to the digital twin to be used as input. This enables the team to replicate not only the stresses in one zone, but also across the entire boat to create maps of critical areas.

With these maps, the engineers can provide the other domain experts with information about critical areas on the boat. These are the areas where defects are already present or likely to occur. “For us, the best outcome of a reliable digital twin is what we call virtual structural health monitoring, or SHM,” Franceschetti said. “Here, all sensors mounted on the boat are transmitting the information about stresses on the boat in real time. This includes fiber optics, strain gauges, load cells, and pressure sensors. Together with this, the digital twin is giving us a picture of the entire state of the boat in real time. This empowers us to review or improve our future development.”

The AC37 is truly a unique competition, in which not only the sailing team but also the engineering team has to do everything it takes to win. Simulation, data analytics, AI, and HPC – which converge in digital twins – give teams a winning edge. Together with Altair, the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team is looking forward to the Cup in Barcelona, hoping to bring home one of the most coveted trophies in international competition.