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New Zealand Windsurf Developer Automates Production with German Robots

20 May 2005

New Zealand’s Carbon Art International is completing a research and development project, with investment from Technology New Zealand, to automate its surfboard production using a German built robot.

The company has received just over AUS $100,000 investment through Technology New Zealand’s Smart Start and Grants for Private Sector Research and Development (GPSRD) schemes. Technology New Zealand assists companies undertaking Research and Development (R&D) projects which result in new products, processes or services.

James Dinnis, founder and owner of Carbon Art, says the company will be adding the latest robotic technology to its current state-of-the art construction techniques and the skills of highly qualified board builders, to produce a range of high performance slalom boards that will “outperform those of its competitors”.

The recent announcement that world renowned windsurfer Phil McGain has signed up with Carbon Art adds strength to the company’s vision. Phil McGain is a former PBA Racing World Champion with a professional racing career stretching back 20 years.

“Automatic shaping not only allows us to build boards with the degree of technical accuracy required by expert and professional sailors, it also means we can do it cost effectively,” says Mr Dinnis.

Current boards are built using a full-size vacuum table that provides improved contraol over the rocker and bottom shape, with the aim of achieving the highest possible cloth to resin ratio. Boards are fully sandwiched using a 100kg/m3 closed cell PVC foam, then vacuum-laminated, using combination of Toughened epoxy resin,1k and 3k woven carbon fibre, uni carbon fibre, kevlar and S glass.

Each board is subjected to over 4 tonnes of pressure for more than 30 hours to ensure strong laminate bonding while maintaining a low weight. The different layers of laminates are carefully engineered during the design and production phase to give the ultimate flex pattern for acceleration and handling.

All this is hoping to change with manufacturing engineers at Auckland University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering who are working with Carbon Art to adapt a German-built robot to precision shape the company’s windsurfing boards. The robot is about 1.8 metres tall and can swivel in six different directions. Ultimately Carbon Art plans to have its own robot at its dedicated production facility in Okato, Taranaki.

While board shaping will be done robotically to improve performance attributes, Mr Dinnis says each board will still be hand checked and processed by the experts, to maintain top quality standards.

“New Zealand is unique in that you can get all the people that count in an industry in one room at the same time. We know a lot of the people involved in the fabrication of America’s Cup boats and the super yachts sold to high flyers around the world and are able to pick up the phone and tap into their expertise. They’re keen to work with a small company with a lot of passion and the potential to be another world leader from New Zealand.”

Around 100,000 wind surfing boards are sold world wide each year, with a factory in Thailand contract manufacturing around 50% of them. Carbon Art believes its streamlined process will allow it to win some of that market share.

Other aspects of the R&D project are focusing on reducing the curing time for each board, researching optimum strength to weight ratios and creating customised graphics and branding for the company’s products.

Producing high performance boards with a quick turnaround using new production techniques, puts Carbon Art International in a strong position to develop a brand that captures the essence of Taranaki and New Zealand’s international prowess in extreme water sports, says Mr Dinnis.

“Billabong started as one guy selling boards and, having captured the essence of the surfing culture, is now the leading surf brand around the world. Carbon Art can do the same thing here by combining our love of extreme sports with Taranaki’s world class windsurfing conditions and the strength of New Zealand’s marine engineering experience and history.”

“We want to work with other cutting edge companies whose products dovetail with ours, to create a strong New Zealand nation image to support our product.”

Carbon Art International, New Zealands only windsurfing brand, was set up in 1995 by James Dinnis, a professional windsurfer and a Hawaiian trained shaper.






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