Sponsorship of sailing has always been about more than just media exposure. Sailing, like motor-sport, is a sport that has a huge technology component that allows for R&D, innovation and technology transfer. This ‘selling point’ of sailing has always been there, but in economic times that make boards focus on real return on investment, the benefits to technology based companies are perhaps more tangible than pure promotion.
Safran is not your average sponsor. You don’t just walk into a shop and pay with your credit card for the kinds of aerospace, defence and technology solutions that they deliver. The company’s sponsorship of Marc Guillemot’s IMOCA 60 is not about collumn inches in the sailing press – it’s about internal communications and motivating engineers to create better solutions.
In an ‘Open’ class, this is the kind of sponsor you want – the kind that can make titanium keels and inertial guidance systems. It’s a very different strategy to selling watches or suits.
Jean-Marie de La Porte, Safran Project leader said last week:
“…this of course adds to the value of the sailing sponsorship project by associating 55,000 employees within the Group. The list of those involved in the project is growing longer and longer and concerns every speciality. For example, the technicians and wiring experts from Morpho were involved in the rewiring of the boat.
They will all be behind Marc Guillemot and Yann Eliès in their next big race, which is drawing near: the Transat Jacques Vabre, starting in Le Havre in a fortnight from now and finishing in Costa Rica. They are facing the biggest challenge, as they will be defending their title won back in 2009.”
Just as automotive manufacturers like Audi use Le Mans programmes to develop next generation ideas, the Vendee Globe is a fantastic platform to push the edge of sailboat technology and design. And if you have a partner like Safran, then you get the latest toys – like a titanium keel.
Safran considered three materials – steel, carbon, and titanium, taking into account three criteria: reliability, cost and performance.
Jean-Marie de La Porte explains:
“Very early on, titanium appeared to be the best solution, particularly as there was a block available at Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, explained. In the Group, we are used to working with titanium, as it is used in aeronautical engineering to build the landing gear, turbine blades and engine casings. Leading experts from the Safran Group became involved, like Jean-Michel de Monicault (Snecma), who monitored the technical aspects of the project and Sandra Andrieu (Messier-Bugatti-Dowty), who contributed her knowledge of this material.”
Marc Guillemot added:
“For me, the uppermost priority was reliability. That’s why we opted for a titanium keel. After that, and only after that consideration, we of course tried with Guillaume Verdier to find ways to improve hydrodynamic performance, reducing drag from the bulb and lowering once again the centre of gravity. That’s what we all attempt to do on our monohulls, as to keep it simple, the greater the weight down below, the better the performance and the more power we obtain. If we could, we would put it down below the keel!”
Shorthanded offshore sailing yachts have always been at the forefront of innovations like auto-pilot. Eventually, some of these ideas filter down to cruising boats. How long before we see Inertial Guidance Systems available to weekend sailors?
Jean-Marie de La Porte talks about such a system…
“It seemed obvious we should try to make use of this technology developed in the Group to work on our 60-foot boat. This system, based on the gyroscopic effect, measures the boat’s movements in real time along three axes (rolling, yawing, pitching), and accelerations. Combining this data with other information such as the wind and steering angle, we can find out more about the performance of the boat in every sort of condition and then work to improve on that.”
Best practice is one of those things that people often only think about in the sphere of their own comfort zone. Sport allows transfer of ideas across these areas of expertise. The technology that allows a motorsport team to change 4 tyres in under 10 seconds has been applied across all manner of manufacturing processes. If you work with boats, then you will do it the way it’s done for boats. If you work with planes, you say – why can’t we do it like we do it in a plane?
The IMOCA 60 projects means that Safran Group can do just that.
The installation of new electronic systems on board the boat made the wiring rather more complicated. The teams therefore called upon the services of two companies within the Group, Labinal and Safran Engineering Services, who redid the entire electrical installation, wiring the boat in the same way they would aircraft. The result is an improved wiring pattern for the cable harnesses and the connections to all the electronic systems.
Jean-Marie de La Porte again:
“This ensures reliability. On top of that it makes it easier to carry out maintenance work and the use of aluminium cables means we have seen big weight savings.”
There will be some that might cry ‘unfair’ – but sailing needs events that push the limits of technology just as much as it needs one-design events. Technology transfer is a welcome growing trend in sailing sponsorship.