Mimicking with Superyacht designers

SuperYachtNews write-up of our event at SuperYacht Design Week 2015 by Angela Audretsch.

“Biomimicry, the approach to innovation that looks to find sustainable solutions to human challenges by mimicking nature, is a realm that designers across all industries have frequently looked to for inspiration and development. A technical workshop at the Altfield showroom saw three experts in the field of biomimicry discuss what progress has been made and ask how the superyacht industry can use biomimicry to improve designs.

Richard James MacCowan from Biomimicry UK began by showing architectural examples of biomimicry in practice, the Eden Project in Cornwall for example, and demonstrating how wide the field of inspiration can be - everything from bird bones, which are strong but lightweight due to latticing, to bombardier beetles, which are inspiring designers of engines and evened extinguishers.

Richard from Biomimicry UK

Dr. Kim Wong from the University of Manchester

Dr. Caitlin Cairns from AzkoNobel Coatings

Mike Reeves sketching a hull concept inspired by tree root structures

Kim Wong of the University of Manchester gave a short presentation on the fascinating world of nanotechnology, where things on a microscopic scale can mean macroscopic changes. Nanotechnology is used in everything from computer parts to cosmetics at the moment and the possibilities are endless. “The major choice with implementing nanotechnology is whether to challenge biology as it is or to implement current biological solutions into design,” he explained. He used the example of hydrophobic surfaces - surfaces that repel water. On lotus leaves, for example, where the surface is structural, water balls up and rolls right off. “We can learn to replicate processes like this,” he told delegates. “A concept like hydrophobia on lotus leaves can be applied to everything from textiles to metals.”

Taking nanotechnology to the next level, Dr Cait Cairns of AzkoNobel Coatings discusses the sphere of fouling control on yacht surfaces. “Organisms will attach to any structure put into a marine environment,” she explained. Why is this a problem? It adds weight, chases drag and therefore increases fuel consumption. She revealed that shell fouling can cause up to 40 per cent drag on a vessel, which can add tens of thousands of euros of fuel per day. Cairns explained that there were plenty of bio-inspired solutions to fouling in nature. Shark skin for example, or even penguins.

 “Penguins are clumsy on land but quick in water,” she pointed out. According to Cairns, the layer of trapped air between the penguin’s feathers not only keeps them warm, but reduces friction. Could we add a layer of air on the hull of a vessel? Cairns says that there has been preliminary investigations but there is still a big opportunity.

To round the session off, the trio challenged delegates to get into teams and explore bio-answers to current superyacht design issues. One team investigated the actual form of yachts, looking at whether it was the most efficient when compared to water-based animals like ducks or water snakes. “Not every challenge leads to a solution,” said Blohm + Voss’ Patrick Coote, who explained that the groups brainstorming had ended up pointing to the traditional yacht profile as the best after all. A team of Claydon Reeves’ Mike Reeves and James Claydon and Awlgrip’s Ken Hickling used the load spreading structure of tree roots and latticing to rethink sailing yacht masts but also enable the placement of a large glass window in the hull structure.”

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