A brand-new thin ply technology (TPT) plotter is now operational at Southern Spars’ Auckland-based Custom Projects facility, adding another component in the company’s drive for higher performing, lighter and stiffer spars.
The installation and commissioning of the new automated TPT plotter is another step in the company’s redevelopment of its New Zealand facilities which saw personnel and projects previously completed on two sites come together into one purpose-built 10,000 sq m factory in the West Auckland suburb of Avondale late last year.
'The addition of the on-site TPT plotter provides yet another level of efficiency in our manufacturing process for the Custom Projects team,' says Southern Spars’ director Mark Hauser. 'The demand for larger and more technically-advanced superyacht and grand prix race rigs continues. We’re at the forefront of industry developments with our TPT technology and it’s exciting to see the potential for efficiency and precision in our manufacturing process with the commissioning of this plotter.'
The use of TPT carbon fibre technology for manufacturing masts and booms stems from leading edge sail materials’ technology developed by Createx of Cossonay in Switzerland for the 2007 America’s Cup.
North Sails, part of the North Technology Group as is Southern Spars, acquired the technology after the Cup and redefined the process to become North 3Di™, the highest performing sail technology currently available. In the middle of 2009, research and development personnel from North Sails and Southern Spars saw the potential in applying the 3Di material processing knowledge to rigid carbon fibre-epoxy composites.
Southern Spars’ technology manager Wayne Smith says: 'With the automated TPT plotter Southern Spars’ designers have the capability to design products using whichever ply angles are optimal for the loading situation at every point on the spar or boom. The plotter then lays the carbon fibre laminate more accurately and efficiently than can be achieved by hand and it is also possible to individually position pieces, rather than being required to lay all adjacent plies parallel to one another.
Smith played a key role in an extensive research and development programme covering resin chemistry, tape processing, tape laying techniques and lamination methodology to refine Southern Spars’ TPT new lamination process.
'The use of TPT has revolutionised the world of laminate composites by providing a more efficient and precise manufacturing process with no limitation to angle, area and thickness. Our aim is to plot in TPT for all carbon products going into the future,' says Smith.
Hauser notes that adopting TPT carbon fibre laminate has allowed Southern Spars to use higher quality laminates than any of its competitors.
'In turn we are producing spars that are far lighter and stiffer than ever before.
'The performance potential of Southern Spars’ TPT process has already been proven with TP52s, 18 ft skiffs and RP42s successfully competing in regattas around the world,' Hauser adds. 'These projects were built over the last year using TPT materials flown in from Switzerland. Now with a new TPT plotter located only a few metres away from the mast moulds, the ‘pre-built TPT complexes’ are plotted as they are required.
'TPT is the way of the future for Southern Spars and the yachting world. The TPT plotter has pushed the technology, design and performance boundaries once again and this will be reflected in all the yachts that will be stepped with one of our new TPT-based spar and rig packages.'