Manufacturing

Surfboard Shop Waves Hello to CAD

3 Aug, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Technology replaces hand-shaping and allows customers to help customize their own designs.


Inside Beachbeat Surfboards in St. Agnes, United Kingdom, a 42" plasma screen draws curious glances from tourists and patrons. What's flashing on the display? It isn't footage of surfers riding wild, frothy waves. It's the interface of a design application used to create one-of-a-kind surfboards.

Beachbeat is owned and operated by Peter "Chops" Lascelles, a former Queensland and English surf champion and the reigning champion in the Hossegor Longboard Masters in France. "Many of the older, established shapers don't know how to turn a computer on," he observes, reflecting on the revered art of hand-shaping surfboards.

Nevertheless, Lascelles is taking the plunge into technology, because, he says, "It has allowed me to expand my designs and do a much broader range, whereas before, when we were hand-shaping, we were constrained," he explains, alluding to the time and effort required to explore design alternatives.

Lascelles' approach takes parameters -- such as a customer's height, weight, age, where and how he or she surfs and so on -- and uses the data to design a board specific to the surfer. The customization can be done over the Web or at the Beachbeat shop, where the staff will likely project the design onto the plasma screen for closer examination. The completed design goes off to Beachbeat's factory in Newquay for manufacturing using CNC (computer numerical controlled) machines.

Lascelles remarks, "It has changed the aspects of the business where you are not so dependent on one person to do all of the shaping, and it can be done anywhere in the world where there is an Internet connection, so it does affect the business in a positive way."

By the Surfers, for the Surfers
Lascelles uses APS3000, a software-hardware combo system designed specifically for making surfboards. It was invented by Miki Langenbach, an engineer and surfboard machinist; Ralph Freese, a professor of mathematics; and Jimmy Freese, a chemical engineer, computer programmer and surfer.

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APS3000 allows surfboard shapers to design custom boards by manipulating the curves of a standard surfboard shape.

"Surfing is like anything else. There're trends," Jimmy Freese observes, "so right now, people are into fish boards, which are generally shorter, have more volume -- kind of a throwback from the 70s." On top of that consideration, designers must look at factors such as the difference between the waters of Hawaii and Florida, the experience level of the surfer, the preferred style of the surfer and the type of waves he or she intends to face, all of which keep custom-shaped boards in demand.

"With a typical CAD system for designing cars, chairs, doors or other things," Jimmy Freese points out, "you're getting a lot of features" -- perhaps much more than you'd need to create the relatively simple shape of a surfboard. "CAD systems also cost money," Jimmy Freese adds, "but the APS3000 is free."

The design software component of APS3000 is downloadable at no cost from the product home page. "The idea of giving the software away free," says Ralph Freese, "is so that not only individuals who want to design surfboards but also shapers can use it, then have the file cut at a cutting center."

Manufacturers such as Beachbeat, however, will need a complete system -- the design software, the CNC machine and the controller software -- an investment of about US$65,000.

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The controller software of APS3000 system allows CNC machines to cut surfboards designed by shapers.

Get into Shape
After launching APS3000, you begin designing your new board by selecting one of a number of generic boards in standard sizes, preloaded with the software. You may also import a profile, an outline or an image that serves as the basis of the profile or the outline of a new board. You can easily adjust the geometry of the board shape to your own preferences using yellow or red control points, just like you might manipulate the curves and lines in a vector drawing program such as Adobe Illustrator. The finished board can be printed as outlines in full scale, saved as a PDF or saved as a board file for machining.

The Digital Shaper
"The goal of our software is to develop a tool for the shaper that would allow him to create new, custom designs," Jimmy Freese points out. "Good shapers can see flaws in a board that most of us would never see. Our goal is to give them the tools to best utilize their skills and from what we are hearing they are very happy with it."

"You might think shapers would resist this technology, but they are surprisingly receptive," Jimmy Freese continues, "partly because sitting at the shaping bay with a mask and goggles on, grinding that piece of hard foam for a couple hours to make a board, is a difficult way to make new, innovative designs."


About the Author: Kenneth Wong


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