History of 3DL
In 1990, Luc Dubois and J.P. Baudet, saw the future of sailmaking from a different perspective. In a back room of the North Sails loft in Milford, CT, far from curious eyes, Baudet spent his days in a hang-gliding harness, floating over a wooden mold, like some high-tech Peter Pan. By hand Baudet was gluing Kevlar yarns under tension to a sheet of Mylar, which was draped over a three dimensional wooden plug. The goal was to form a perfectly shaped J/24 headsail in one continuous 3-D piece, rather than with myriad seams - the traditional method of shaping sails. Some 4500 meters of Kevlar yarn was painstakingly oriented to match the loads in the sail. Baudet worked hard to lay them down under equal tension, so as to lock in the shape.
Next, a second piece of Mylar was placed over the top, completing the "sandwich." The sail was vacuum-bagged together, compressing the two pieces of Mylar "bread" around the Kevlar "meat." Finally, the glue was set off by the application of heat, in this case with an ordinary iron! This sandwich construction was more boat building than sailmaking. In fact, the idea of molding sails had occurred to Baudet when studying boat building back home in Switzerland at age 17. Later, he and his friend Luc Dubois brought the idea to North, and the project was set in motion. Coincidentally, in 1980, Eckart Wagner, then president of North Sails Surf (i.e., windsurfing), had received a patent in Germany for molded sails reinforced with fibers.
By 1990, J.P. and Luc produced the J/24 genoa. The sail held its shape in strong winds and stood up to wear and tear. It was also 33% lighter than a "normal" J/24 headsail. Without seams, the sail was remarkably smooth, like glass. For North, this was the beginning of three-dimensionally laminated sails, or "3DL®
Most modern sails achieve their three-dimensional shape through the contour of numerous panels of sailcloth sewn together in a process called broadseaming. Lowell North pioneered this process in modern sailmaking and much of North's success has stemmed from its ability to utilize this process successfully.
3DL takes this process to the next step. Instead of relying on flat cloth with curved edges, the 3DL process molds the entire sail over a three-dimensional mold.
3DL sails are fast because they are up to 20% (and sometimes more) lighter than a conventional sail, stretch less, and have a wider effective wind range (which means potentially fewer sails in your inventory). 3DL more efficiently utilizes each individual yarn because it is laid smooth and continuous - with no breaks or bending at seams - in the same shape that it is expected to take when sailing.
3DL sails are currently built in Minden, Nevada, in the largest and most sophisticated sailmaking facility in the world. Programmable molds are draped with Mylar film and then a computer-controlled system applies precisely tensioned yarn over the Mylar. Additional 3DL molds have recently been put into operation in North's manufacturing facility in Sri Lanka.
The molds can be adjusted to shape sails of widely varying cambers. Sewing is limited to the corners, edges or attachment points of the sails.
It is not over-dramatizing to state that North literally bet its future on 3DL, given the sizeable investment it made and continues to make. For North and its customers, the future is now!