The America's cup competition is as much a test of technology and management ability as it is of sailing skills. So says Brad Butterworth, tactician for Team Alinghi, the New Zealand boat that won the 2003 race. Speaking at the recent International Ansys Conference in Pittsburgh, Butterworth credited management skills and team culture with giving the biggest impact on race results. Team culture made it possible to follow a disciplined process of experimentation that led to rapid learning. Alinghi team members were able to revise their boat during the preparation phase on a 24-hr cycle: Sail, note results, make changes, and be ready to sail again all within a day.

One noteworthy aspect of the effort was that Alinghi had only the fourth-largest budget of all the boats in the America's competition. The winning edge, claims Butterworth, came from taking a long time to choose team members, and from focusing on results. “Nothing and nobody goes on board just for a ride,” he explains. “Everything and everybody on the boat has to help win the race.”

Another competitive trick: The team always matched itself against what it judged to be the strongest competitors during preliminary heats. That strategy gave the most feedback about the crew's own shortcomings and pointed the way for improvements, says Butterworth.

Alinghi is now in the building phase for the 2007 competition. The team is partnering with Ansys to do computational fluid dynamics for the effort. Multiphysics analysis, for example, is in use to gauge how sails respond to the wind. The team is also analyzing the masts and stays supporting them with Ansys FEA software.

No question that simulation will play a larger role in the 2007 race than ever before. And this is true in a multitude of areas in addition to sailing, said Ansys Vice President and Mechanical Business General Manager Michael Wheeler. The auto industry is a good example, says Wheeler. He cites statistics that indicate automakers in the coming decade will move to a mode of working where 70% of development efforts will take place through computer simulation, and just 30% will use physical prototypes. The reverse is true today, he says.

To that end, Wheeler says improvements on the drawing board for Ansys software include treatment of nonlinear materials, integration of HEX meshing and multibody dynamics into simulations, complete magneto statics, and a meshing strategy that allows different kinds of meshing techniques. “No one solver fits all needs,” explained Wheeler.