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Ceramic coated winch drums take to the high seas

04 October 2011

Yacht designers have turned to ceramic technology to solve long standing durability issues with winches in the Volvo Ocean Race, a nine month event that covers 39,000 nautical miles. This year, the first winches to be coated using Zircotec’s tough ThermoHold based ceramic will be on trial from the moment the event commences at the end of this month. The crews are hoping that the coating will minimise wear and enable them to switch to harder and smaller ropes that provide better grip and are easier to handle.

Aluminium winches typically found on this class of yacht have a rough finish to enhance grip and friction, but this surface is rapidly worn away, leading to poorer performance and introducing a safety risk. The Zircotec ceramic coating is expected to solve these issues even in the harshest ocean race environment. Carbon composite materials are also used in this series, though these provide limited grip, are easily worn and are not easily refurbished.

Zircotec can apply its ThermoHold coating to composite winches, even used winches, and in this case the coating provides a very significant improvement to both grip and friction. It is also resistant to salt water and provides excellent adhesion to the underlying substrate, irrespective of whether it is aluminium or carbon composite. This adhesion is crucial as the smaller diameter ropes place greater strain on the surface contact area. While this coating technology has been tested in national yachting competitions, the Volvo Ocean Race will be a true test of its ability.

Zircotec’s coatings are applied via plasma-spraying, a process the company has used to protect parts destined for nuclear reactors. Using a gas powered torch, molten powder is fed into the flame and fired at the work piece to produce a true solid ceramic coating rather than a paint-like surface treatment.

Zircotec has been working with Diverse Yachts to specify, develop and test the coating. Subject to the trials, that effectively take place during the nine-month race, Diverse plans to offer the benefits of this coating technology to other classes of yacht and sailing enthusiasts.

Updates on the performance of the coated winches will be issued periodically as the race progresses.

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