The naval architects for Team Prada, an Italian entry to the America's Cup sailboat race, designed its hull, keel, and mast by letting Isight software govern inputs and outputs of several analysis programs.

The software, from Engineous, Research Triangle Park, N.C., works like a ship's captain telling other programs what to work with and what to send to the next package in a sequence. Several design, meshing, and analysis programs were run this way in a loop.

In addition, optimization routines in Isight examined the results to guide input parameters to the best possible results. The architects with the Prada team eventually wound up with an unusual design that could win the race for Italy, a first for the country.

Ship designers with Team Prada used Isight software to simultaneously run several programs that guided the design of the boat. The programs included Pro/E for modeling and assemblies, Pro/Mechanica for dynamics, and several CFD programs that described sea states and hydrodynamic conditions.

Many engineering projects rely on three or four programs to guide the design of complex products. But running them manually can be downright boring, and manual data entries lead to mistakes. The software captain solves that problem.

"We had one configuration of the boat under our belt when be brought in Isight," says David Egan, a designer with Team Prada. "We tried it first on a new mast and keel design. The mast is a carbon fiber so it behaves nonlinearly. For instance, you can't tighten one side completely and then the other. It must be done simultaneously. But to find how to best tighten the mast, we used the software to minimize the boundary conditions for our nonlinear mast analysis. To develop the keel, we used several hydrodynamic programs." For instance, Egan says a boat is more difficult to model than an aircraft because it depends on how much water touches the hull, how it's floating, the forces around it, and the wave dynamics.

Once the software captain was operating, it would feed force or pressure data back into Pro/Mechanica, a kinematics and dynamics program. The orientation of the 3D Pro/E assembly was driven off the physics of the problem. One of the homegrown CFD programs computes the sea surface or wave patterns. And several Navier-Stokes solvers calculate viscous flow fields and aerodynamic flows.