In an America’s Cup characterized by foils, wings and bustles, the word that could mean making a difference is: elastomer, a natural or synthetic polymer that displays rubber-like elasticity. In other words, as Pirelli Advanced Materials Department Manager Luca Giannini explains, “what is commonly known as rubber”.
It is not the first time that Pirelli, an Italian company founded in 1872 and today a Corporate business with 19 plants in 12 countries, around 31,600 employees and a turnover of approximately 5.3 billion euros (2019), is the protagonist of the America’s Cup. “The first time” explains Mr. Giannini “was in 2007, when we were asked to design and build the pneumatic mainsail slats for the Valencia challenge. This time, we have been asked to enter the territory, unexplored for them, of elastomers”.
So, supported by a team of 12 researchers (Pirelli Research & Development Department has 1,900 employees), Mr. Giannini led “Luna Rossa” to the discovery of some special formulas which make it possible to obtain very different materials. “Elastomers are a completely different world from those of metals or carbon fiber commonly used on boats. We created a dedicated team that interfaced with that of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli for the characterization of the materials”, comments Giannini.
This experimentation path resulted into a series of samples: from those with the same consistency than gel to those with a rigidity similar to plastic. “It was a wide-ranging work that also involved the company’s resources dealing with modeling and virtual reality. For elastomers, the parameters of the final materials are extracted from tests that require the definition of models, useful only in specific conditions”.
After defining the models, identifying the possible materials, developing the specific tests and obtaining useful parameters, prototypes were then made on the basis of the simulations. “Luna Rossa integrated them in the design to then test them at sea” continues Giannini. But where were the very special elastomers developed by Pirelli used? “We can say that the application areas are some parts of the rudders and foils. There, elastomers are very efficient in exchanging forces. As is the case with tires with the road asphalt”, explains Giannini.
Pirelli teams spent six months in research and development for “Luna Rossa”. “A very short time” concludes Luca Giannini “which allowed us to explore new horizons. It is not enough to find the best material. It must be achievable and compatible with the element which it is destined to. In this case a boat. And I really believe that the elastomer parts on Luna Rossa are a plus. A winning plus, we hope!”