Visit to North Sails 3DL Fabrication Plant

(Margot Gerritsen, Steve Collie, Daniela Hanson, Brendan Abbott

On January 29th, four of us got a tour of the North Sails 3DL Plant in Minden, Nevada. The tour included an explanation of material handling, mold shaping, fiber layout, and material quality control.

All the material used in the construction of 3DL sails is carefully stored in a climate-controlled environment. Aramid thread tends to absorb moisture very easily. So, the climate is dry and held at a temperature of about 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mylar film is coated with adhesive. When the sail is being made on 3DL mold, the Mylar film forms the first layer.

Aramid thread is sometimes woven into the Mylar/adhesive layer, adding even more strength to the material.

The Mylar film is then cut into panels, which together form the shape of the sail.

The first layer (Mylar and adhesive, with or without Aramid thread) is laid down on a flat mold. The mold is then formed to the shape of the sail by computer-controlled pneumatic jacks.

Once the sail shape is set, the core fibers are laid down, in the desired layout. Carbon, Kevlar, and a variety of other fibers can be used. Someone in the harness (seen above the sail) follows the fiber layout, making sure the fibers are laid down correctly.

Some of the International AmericaÍs Cup Class (IACC) sails were being made while we were at North Sails. These sails are about 30 meters (about 90 feet) in length, and require a very large mold.

The trip to North Sails was a very educational and interesting experience. Thank you to Bill Pearson for the tour and to all of the other North Sails employees for their insight and answers to our questions.

-D. Hanson, B. Abbott