Record-breaking superyacht designed using space mission techniques
Superyachts and space satellites may not seem like they have much in common, but Dutch shipbuilder Royal Huisman's Sea Eagle II – the world’s largest aluminum sailing yacht – was designed using the same engineering techniques that go into developing ESA space missions.
Launched on January 7, 2020, at Royal Huisman's shipyard in Vollenhove, the Netherlands, the 81-m (266-ft) long luxury schooner Sea Eagle II was transferred by barge to the company's Amsterdam facility to be fitted with its carbon composite mast before beginning sea trials in the run up to delivery later this year. That may seem as routine as things can be for the seventh-largest sailing yacht in the world, but behind the polished finish of its metal hull are some real space-age engineering ideas.
According to ESA, what sets Sea Eagle II apart from her nautical cousins is that it was designed and developed using the space agency's techniques created at its Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Essentially, concurrent design abandons the traditional engineering approach of designing and building something in separate steps – instead every step is developed from first to last simultaneously so the teams can be informed of problems and solutions as work progresses.
"Satellites and superyachts are both complex machines, and concurrent engineering is advantageous in designing any complex system," says Massimo Bandecchi, founder of the CDF. "The basic idea is simple: bring together all necessary experts and design tools into a single room to work together as a team on a shared software model that updates immediately as changes are made, to assess design feasibility and trade-offs in a much more effective and reliable way.
"While our main focus is fulfilling the needs of ESA engineering, there has also been strong interest in our work from industry. Concurrent engineering’s improved performance in terms of time, cost and efficiency speaks for itself. The result is that more than 50 centers have been built following ESA’s original CDF model and are now in operation across Europe, the majority in the space sector, plus around 10 non-space centers."
For building Sea Eagle II, Stefan Coronel, Royal Huisman’s Design and Engineering Manager, was trained by Massimo and his team in the intricacies of concurrent design, which Coronel's team, in turn, could adapt to the peculiar problems of shipbuilding.
"Yacht building is not rocket science, but it does involve a complex, multi-disciplinary system, with lots of trade-offs to be decided," says Coronel. "The traditional ‘over the hedge’ design method – where one knowledge field does its work, then throws it across to the next team in sequence – demands the subsequent checking of feedback then possible design adjustments, so is quite a time-consuming process. In the modern yard-building world, there isn’t so much time to spare.
"That said, compared to the dramatic shortening of satellite conceptual design time achieved by ESA, the main benefit we see from concurrent engineering is not gaining time but that the quality of the final design ends up much better, and more complete – giving us confidence to proceed to the build phase."
Royal Huisman is using concurrent design for all its new projects as well as those involving refits and servicing of older vessels. This involves breaking down the work into subsystems – similar to how ESA engineers approach space missions. Personnel from the main disciplines in yacht design sit in on all development sessions, including structural strength and stiffness, deck and sail handling, propulsion, power, heating, air conditioning; electronics, and interior design. In addition, experts on peripheral issues, like noise and vibration, are brought in as needed.