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From grand prix raceboats to superyachts, Synapse is taking load sensing to a whole new level and turning America’s Cup style data analysis into a more accessible, easy-to-use solution for a wider range of sailors

The sharp end of sailing is a numbers game and load sensors play a pivotal role. The volume of data can easily become overwhelming and it’s often a challenge to calibrate, manage, store and interpret it effectively. What has been missing in the marketplace, until now, is a fully integrated solution. North Technology Group has created a new division – Synapse, a spin-off from their composite rigging maker, Future Fibres – to fill that gap.

The load-sensing systems that most grand prix sailing teams rely on are complex and highly bespoke. Modern superyachts have broadly similar setups, albeit for different reasons with safety as the main focus. Synapse offers a complete system that logs, displays, distributes, manages and stores all the data that any racing team or superyacht captain is likely to need, along with a tailored suite of user interfaces and software tools to help with analysis.

Main picture: load cells integrated into the V1 and D1 turnbuckles of Future Fibres rigging cables on the foil-assisted Baltic 111 Raven

A stand-out feature of Synapse is that its load cells are built into the terminations of Future Fibres rigging. ‘The unique advantage is that we measure load and strain in line with the load and we don’t have to add any links,’ says Synapse general manager Nick Christensen, formerly head of design at Future Fibres. ‘With a load pin, you’re bending the pin and measuring the strain of bending. That relies on getting the setup for calibration and the setup on the boat exactly the same. As soon as you start pulling in a slightly different direction the pin is no longer calibrated to do that. But if you’re pulling in line with the rig there are no arguments, you can’t possibly pull that in a different way because it just gets pulled in tension. So we know the calibration we do in the lab is exactly transferrable to the setup on the yacht..’

The benefits for riggers and engineers are obvious. ‘When I was at Future Fibres, we encountered challenges with our rigging teams visiting boats equipped with load pins and electronics that were outdated or malfunctioning,’ Christensen recalls. ‘There might be a barrel pin and the mast was raked back in a different direction. So the engineers would have to go through a tedious process of going up and down on the shims, applying different loads and comparing that with the models before they could trust the pins. With these new load cells built into our rigging, it’s out of the box trustworthy and good to go.’ The inherent uncertainty of uncalibrated load pin readings, which can be up to 10 per cent, is thus eliminated.

Above and below: two examples of live display dashboards showing actual, target and maximum loads.

Synapse load cells are built into a wide range of rigging components such as custom turnbuckles for V1 and D1 shrouds, upper or lower end headstay terminations, and various types of lashing eyes for the upper end of running backstays. ‘For backstays it makes more sense to put the load cell in the upper end because it doesn’t move much,’ Christensen explains. ‘When you ease a leeward runner its lower end moves a lot. If you put a load cell there, the cable carrying the signal would have to ease with it, requiring a lot of extra length or use wireless transmission which has its own challenges, frequency and battery life among them.’ Synapse can also replace ram jaws with load cell jaws for any hydraulic ram and integrate sensors into mast base compression shims.

There’s a lot more to Synapse than load cells. The hub of the system is the Nucleus processor which logs all the data locally, distributes it in real time to onboard systems such as Sailmon or B&G, and importantly, also to users’ phones and tablets or laptops via a web browser offering some unique features. The Nucleus unit weights about 1kg and has 64GB of internal storage. For a typical implementation that’s three to six months’ worth of continuous logging at a high frequency and if more storage capacity is needed a USB hard drive can be plugged in.

Nucleus also hosts a range of data-viewing dashboards that are designed specifically for each customer’s needs. After some filtering, it pushes all the data to the Synapse cloud where interactive dashboards help users to analyse their data after a race, or inspect it after an offshore passage.

‘We create a digital product for sailors that works for them and is easy,’ Christensen says. ‘We’re in a unique place to do that because we already do the engineering of the entire rig – everything above the deck. If you’re on a grand prix boat, trying to push the limits without breaking things, we’re giving you a very well-engineered solution for live feedback about where you sit with the current loads versus our engineering. Not just for maximum loads, it can help you achieve target loads on various points of sail.’

‘And if you’re on a superyacht, we’re giving you an easy way to manage the human safety factor as well as protecting the gear. It’s about taking out all the guesswork of are we OK or are we not OK here. We can make that work because we’ve designed the sail or the spar or the rigging in the first place. That’s another big focus for us.’

Early adopters of the complete Synapse solution include the foil-assisted Baltic 111 Raven, TP52 Vesper, ClubSwan 80 My Song and former Maxi72 North Star. Synapse load cells are also integrated into the rigging of the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, the Baltic 108 Winwin and several Southern Wind yachts. Two more users that can’t be named are a leading America’s Cup team and another large foiling monohull.

‘Raven is a good example of the value we can deliver,’ Christensen says. ‘They have a unique setup so we’ve done dashboards that show – in real time, for whatever sail configuration they’re using – the live load overlaid with the max load, overlaid with the target.’

Above: unlike a load pin, a load cell built into a turnbuckle is only loaded in tension so that calibration that is done in the lab is then exactly transferrable to the yacht

‘This is America’s Cup style data analysis but we’re making it more accessible,’ Christensen says. ‘If we just dumped all the data in the cloud, no one would ever use it because it’s too hard. We have an event system that will flag an overload, or for something routine like a tack or gybe it can create a dashboard so you can see all the loads that were going on without needing to trawl though all your data. For the racing sailor it’s easier access to meaningful data and for the superyacht captain it’s an easy way to review how much they’re stressing the rigging compared to its working load.’

There are potential benefits in after-sales service for customers of North Sails, Southern Spars, Hall Spars and Future Fibres. ‘We can close the loop with our engineering, get real world data and feed it back with some actionable insights, either for safety or performance,’ he explains. ‘For example you might be putting eight tons of load on the headstay and we can say that you should be using 12 tons.’

Another key feature of Synapse is its ability to sample data at a very high rate of up to 100Hz, which makes the data much more reliable. ‘Some years ago I did some load testing on a boat in New Zealand,’ Christensen recalls. ‘We went out and logged at 15Hz on the first day, then reviewed the data. The next day we logged at 50Hz and the data looked completely different. The loads are so dynamic that if you go too slow – the difference between logging at 10 points per second and 50 points or 100 points – you run the risk of cleanly missing the peak. We saw similar average values but when we turned up the frequency we saw that it actually peaked quite a lot higher.’

The snag with logging at 100Hz (or even at 50Hz) is that it creates an enormous volume of data but the Nucleus processing hub is designed to manage it. ‘When you’re logging at such a high rate you don’t want to send all of it to the cloud but you don’t want to drop it either,’ Christensen says. ‘So we have algorithms that can thin the data when it makes sense to do so. When Synapse predicts that the load is going towards a peak it will capture a lot more data and retain it. When the loads are low and not going to peak, the effective sampling frequency can be greatly reduced to much more manageable levels. When you need data it will all be there but you don’t have to store too much in the cloud or clog up your bandwidth.’

When a peak load is predicted it triggers the event system automatically: ‘When something happens, Nucleus will keep all the data around that event, depending on what it is, for let’s say plus or minus 30 seconds. I think that’s a unique feature.’

So what’s next for Synapse now that the first implementations of their end-to-end solution are out on the water logging and compiling data? They’re already looking to leverage the power of Nucleus and the Synapse cloud and incorporate data from other sensing technology. To that end they are partnering with Insensys, a leader in the field of fibre optic strain sensors, which opens the system up to other areas of yachting, measuring hull or foil strains for example. The team is excited about the possibilities that will enable sailors to really get the best from their equipment while staying within the engineering limits.

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