photo by Tommy Della Frana
Do you know how many hands are touching your sail before you have rolled it out the first time on the beach? With Point-7 we take you to our production facilities in Sri Lanka at Aquadynamics. The factory has a great experience and not only on windsurfing sails. So let’s go directly behind the scenes from the usual windsurfing images.
A windsurfing sail is a true handcrafted product. Each piece is assembled in series, but practically is mostly hand made one by one.
There are a lot of steps to get to the point that the sail can be rigged on the beach to plug and play, and enjoy the wind, waves and all the great feelings we have when on our gear.
The production of the actual sail, is one of the many steps, and we will go through each step of this, but the whole process starts from the development. The development is directed by the feedback of the clients who use the final product, and the top PWA pro riders who bring the gear to the extreme usage. After hours of testing on the water, flying around the world to find different conditions, flying to events to be with the riders, jumping on the race course to test, simply sailing with recreational windsurfing friends on daily basis, meeting with dealers and distributors, finally the whole feedback is put together, designed on files, graphics are defined, material organized with the suppliers arriving from different parts of the world, sampled to test, test, and test again by doing all what you just read over and over again.
At one point when smiles and positive results are happening on the water, it’s time to confirm production.
When the production facilities receives the final patterns and files of the new editions, their work starts. Generally a brand has 10 sail lines with an average of 8 sizes each. This means having to deal with 80 different models.
Any idea how many pieces a sail is assembled from? A race sail has about over 200 patches without counting hardware components, battens, and rubber protections otherwise it’s closer to 250-300. Multiply 250 by 80 models, that means 20,000 different parts. Don’t forget the sail bags which are not calculated. Everything has to fit, and is not that you press the button with the file of the sail, and the sail comes out ready.
The files get checked by experts in production to verify if there could be any mistakes in the patterns given. They study all the parts to see if there are parts which are difficult to be produced due to prints, assembly or anything else.
The graphics are sent out to the graphics department of the production facilities as they have to plan out all the screens. Each print has to fit the size of the sail. Do you know how many prints are in one sail? Well we get back that later, because when you will find out the details you will not believe it. Other thing is that the graphics can be really cool, but is it really possible to print everywhere? Not always due to the materials. Different solutions need to be found. The colour has also to be matching on different materials, and therefore according to the materials the shade might need to be changed. The graphical patterns printed through different panels and materials need to be in line, and this is not another quick job, as panels have shaping in them. As the sails sizes are not just simple scale downs as there are fixed points, such as the boom opening and clew, therefore each graphics has to be completely re-drawn on each size. So let’s say there are 30 prints on one side of the sail, this have to be multiplied by 2 , as there is a portack and starboard tack, (especially when using black monofilm which has no see through), these by 80 sails. Does this give the idea of how many screens are needed?
Going back to the technical drawings, once everything is checked, the various pieces are separated according to the materials and nesting is the next part. Nesting, for those who might not know, is like playing tetris. The material rolls are generally not higher than 1,40m. So the patters of the sails and all the pieces need to be cut fitting in that height. They need to be nested that there is less waste of material possible. There are computer programs, but let’s say that it can be still more efficient when done by man.
Material is selected from the stock and brought to the cutting department. Roles are kilometres of length.
Once the nesting is finished, the roles of the different materials are placed on the cutting plotters which start cutting the material.
Each material cut is being checked to make sure that the cutting is perfect, and that the monofilm has no production defects. Do we want to talk about how the monofilm and other materials are produced, checked, packed and transported before getting there? Let’s leave it for another time!
Still the material after being cut, is being checked again piece by piece to make sure that there are no scratches nor dings.
Each material cut, is covered with super light paper and tape, to protect it from scratches. The paper is cut manually to fit the size of each panel. The monofilm, before being assembled to become a sail goes through 177 people. If a single person would need to do sail, with the prints and care that there is now in a real production, it would take 597h per sail. A sail designer alone when he does not need to put prints or care too much of other details, would normally take perhaps little less than a week of work.
Some of the dacron tape and materials which are just internal stripes or reinforcements, are cut by hand as it’s faster.
As all parts are cut, these get sent to the printing department. On each piece there are the instructions written on, to make sure that the printing department knows what they are receiving.
Before we were talking about how many screens there were, but let’s say that one panel has 4 colours. The same panel has to be screen printed 4 times for the 4 different colours. Each colour needs 4 hours to dry. This means that to finish one panel on one side, it takes 16hours. When you have to print both sides, it means 32hours. So here an example below for the one which takes 36h.
When each part are finished to be printed, they get sent to a department which checks again the quality of the printing, and if the panel is looking perfect, otherwise it gets directly discarded.
The batten department never sleeps. The machines that produce the rods and tubes are working 24h a day. Average of 5 battens each sail, each have different lengths, grinding, materials, constructions, stiffness, set ups. Time it again for the number of sails. The work to assemble cut and grind is all done by hand, as you would do it yourself at home. Meaning specs for 400 different battens.
As the sail is being printed, battens are being made, and there is a total different department taking care of the sail bags. Do you think sail bags is an easier job than a sail? It’s still needs printing, each bag has personalized prints according to the size of the sail, and the graphics needs to fit all different boom lengths of sails. It has zippers, protections, different materials, and therefore nesting, cutting and the whole procedure is the same as a sail.
Once all the parts are ready for assembly they are all brought to the last department. This is where the sail is assembled. There are 8 different teams each specialized in different sections.
It starts with the assembly of the panels on one side, and with the assembly of the mast sleeve on a different side. Once the parts are assembled the stitching starts. It’s a very precise job, as 1mm mistake in joining the panels gives a different profile, leach opening, so the staff has to be fully focused when doing this in matching perfectly each part.
The mast sleeve is a lot of work as well. On a formula sail there are many patches and it has actually the size of a small wave sail. There are thick reinforcements which need expensive and heavy sawing machines for over 30K costs.
Once the batten pockets are prepared, these are the first components to be stitched on the sail.
Then for a race sail the most important and difficult part begins. The assembly of the mast pocket to the body of the sail. It has to be done gently and to get it perfect it is not simple. It’s an art. Once assembled it goes to the next table to be stitched.
At this point the sail is done. Remember that 220 pieces have been put together till now by hand. 180 people have touched your sail. It went through 5 different departments and landed on 30 different tables, left to rest on many different shelves, rolled 30 times, and the monofilm has not one scratch nor ding. Did you ever try to roll or lift up a sail with no battens. Or played with a piece of monofilm 1m by 1m. How long does it take you to get the first scratch or line on the sail? It’s a miracle how in production the sail comes out without any small damage. There is so much care, and love for the work done that it’s amazing to see. As said before, each piece of monofilm is covered with paper when transported from one table to the next. To work on the sail, the paper has to be taken out, and immediately after, is put back on with tape. When you would see this with your own eyes, it’s shocking.
There are the final steps. The sail is then taken to a table where all the extra thread is burned and cut.
On to the next table where the sail has the outhaul eyelets put in.
The sail has no scratches, but a lot of finger prints. So it goes the next table, where it gets polished with coconut oil to remove the finger prints and notes.
The sail is ready to have the battens, the cams, placed in.
The sail is ready to be completed, by being screened on the table of the quality manager. He goes through each single detail checking that nothing is missing, or out of place, that all is clean and smooth.
The sail is rolled with extra paper and foam to protect it from being scratched during transport, stickers, gadgets, spare parts are all placed in, and put finally in the sail bag.
The sails are than single boxed, each box has the serial number of the sail, and all the info. All is ready to be shifted in the container and ready to go by air or by sea, to the next customs in the different countries.
How many km more will the sail do, and how many hands will be involved before getting to your ones? Many…!, and every year new patterns are developed therefore more nesting, the graphics change so new screens, innovations are introduced for hardware and materials and new moulds need to be built.
This is what is happening behind the production of your next sail. This is what it went through when you will unroll it the first time.