Smartgyro – Skill and talent

Smartgyro is a story of success and friendship that, like most great achievements, began after work and as a passion. With the support of its strategic partner Yanmar, this Ligurian company specialises in “stabilising” the path to sailing comfort

by Olimpia De Casa – photo by Andrea Muscatello

From a garage in Porto Lotti, in the heart of the Golfo dei Poeti, to the current headquarters (their third) of 1,000 square metres, which is already beginning to be too small considering the production peak triggered by Yanmar’s entry as majority shareholder at the end of 2019. The company in question is Smartgyro and it specialises in the design and production of modular, and therefore easy to install and maintain, gyroscopic stabilisers on board recreational, but also commercial and workboats.

The company’s headquarters are now at 11 Via Privata O.T.O. in La Spezia, where we met the four founding partners who, albeit with different shares, continue to represent the mind, heart and soul of the company, which was founded in 2014 and has since been taken over by the Japanese giant from Osaka, which already owns companies such as Vetus, Maxwell and Flexofold. The story, without in any way diminishing the role and importance of the place where the meeting took place, could well begin like this: “We were just four friends at the club who wanted to change the world…”. Simply because the four friends in question, engineers and managers Carlo Gazerro, Paolo Salutari, Dino Esposito and Fabrizio Stifani, definitely had the means to change sailing comfort for the better. And to be clear, by “means” we are referring to skill, talent, determination and an unlimited passion gained over more than 30 years of professional experience in the military industry. Even rigour was sitting at the table with the rest of the group on that first day of Smartgyro.

THE MECHANICAL, ELECTRONIC, HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE DESIGNS ARE THE RESULT OF THE TALENT OF THE MEN AND WOMEN
WHO WORK AT SMARTGYRO.

The common interest in the world of stabilisers was initially our second job, a shared passion that kept us busy for the first year and a half studying the theory” , recalls Carlo Gazerro, Smartgyro’s sales manager. “But from the second year on, we moved on to the practical side and carried out the first experiments that led to the first fateful prototype, a terrible device that had nothing to do with what we produce today. However, it was essential to test the theory of designing a product with ideal performance and ease of use. The evolution of the first concept from an air-cooled gyroscope to a vacuum-enclosed sphere with liquid-cooled bearings turned out to be crucial to make our vision come true”.

The Smartgyro range consists of the SG20, SG40, SG60, SG80, SG120 and SG150 models and is suitable for stabilising boats from 40 to over 95 feet.

The next step was to create a high-performance system that was both easy to maintain and – perhaps the most complex challenge – feasible at a reasonable cost-benefit ratio. Confidence was boosted not only by the long and careful development of the first unit but also by the huge growth potential of the stabilisation market as a whole. “Even then, it was hard to imagine a boat without a bespoke solution, especially if it was to be chartered, where comfort and equipment had to include an efficient stabilisation system”.

After long nights spent in the garage, with technical experience, commitment and enthusiasm as their most trusted allies, the “Fantastic Four” arrived at the crucial and sometimes dreaded first tests. “We carried out the test at sea thanks to a friend who lent us his boat, a 42-foot Riviera. The result was extraordinary: that day, on that fisherman, during the first real test of real navigation, the roll reduction reached an impressive 92%”.A milestone that transformed a project conceived almost as an after-work hobby into a full-time professional activity that could no longer take place in a garage…“We are now in the third ‘real’ headquarters and I believe it will not be the last. As you can see, it is already starting to be too small. If we had to change it today, we would have to think about at least 2,000 square metres, because it is not possible to move the company every two years. Each move involves huge costs, but also a temporary loss of production and a lot of effort because, in addition to the warehouse, we have to move all our test machines each time, and they are not exactly light”.

After the first five years of independent product development, the arrival of Yanmar allowed Smartgyro to continue to grow and the four founding partners to remain personally involved in the design, assembly and testing processes. “We already had two products, the SG40 for 50- to 60-foot boats, which was the first to see the light of day, and the SG80 for 60- to 70-foot units. With Yanmar, we have developed the SG20, the smallest, designed for 45 to 55-foot hulls, presented at Mets 2023 in a battery-operated version, and the SG120 and 150, for 70 to 95 foot boats. For the latter two, the largest in our range, we presented mock-ups for the first time in 2022. They will soon go into production”. The research and development department is entirely in-house: mechanical, electronic, hardware and software designs are the result of the talent of the men and women who work at Smartgyro. A close-knit team of fifteen professionals, with an average age of less than 30, all on permanent contracts, 40% of whom are dedicated exclusively to research. Once the project has been defined, the parts are delivered and assembled by specialised contractors, with intermediate steps dedicated to quality control. After running-in and testing, the system is ready to be shipped and installed on board. Yanmar is not involved as a technical entity, but as a majority shareholder, it directly controls all financial aspects of Smartgyro.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE INITIAL CONCEPT FROM AN AIR-COOLED GYROSCOPE TO A VACUUM-ENCAPSULATED SPHERE WITH LIQUID-COOLED BEARINGS HAS BEEN CRUCIAL TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF TODAY’S PRODUCT.

Are there significant differences in the supply of gyro stabilisers for the refit and new build markets? Given that we work in both areas, the former is generally a little more challenging because you are working on board already built units where it is up to the skill of the fitter to find the right space, to work out how to position the batteries or the air conditioning system to properly house the stabiliser and to adequately reinforce the hull where the full force of the engine is applied. The situation is different with new boats, where our work is made easier by the possibility of creating a synergy with the shipyard’s technical department, to which we provide installation plans and simplified 3D models. If there is a problem with the sphere, which is at the heart of the system, we can inspect it thanks to the openings provided in various areas and intervene without having to disembark the boat, with all the consequences that this would entail in terms of intervention time. Repairing or replacing the item on the spot is an unrewarding advantage in yachting, because let us not forget that the most valuable thing for the shipowner is time. If something happens in the middle of a holiday, we can solve the inconvenience immediately.

IF THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH THE SPHERE, WHICH IS AT THE HEART
OF THE SYSTEM, WE CAN INSPECT IT THANKS TO THE OPENINGS PROVIDED IN VARIOUS AREAS AND INTERVENE WITHOUT HAVING
TO DISEMBARK THE BOAT.

In terms of system performance and efficiency, what are the benefits of Smartgyro technology? It makes it possible to eliminate air friction. The machine is cooled by seawater and the flywheel, which rotates inside the sphere, moves under vacuum. If you consider that the outer surface of the flywheel of an SG40 rotates at almost 700 km/h, you can easily imagine how high the friction would be. This friction, in turn, would generate heat and therefore power consumption if it were not running in a vacuum. So at higher speeds, we can generate less heat, absorb less power and therefore deliver more power.

Under what conditions do you get the most benefit? Compared to fins, which work better when the boat is sailing, gyro stabilisers work best when the boat is anchored. It would be ideal, and some boatyards do it, to install both systems, a solution that is conceivable for boats over 16/18 metres in length.

Smartgyro took its first steps in 2014. Carlo Gazerro, Paolo Salutari, Dino Esposito and Fabrizio Stifani, engineers and managers with over thirty years of experience, gathered in a modest garage to give shape to their company.

Is there room for improvement? While it is true that the principle of stabilisation has been used in sailing since the late 1800s, it is undeniable that technology has helped to reduce the size of these devices for the same amount of power generated, and therefore the anti-roll capacity. Thanks to special bearings, it has been possible to achieve much higher speeds with smaller flywheels. Compared with the first systems, the main advances have been in terms of compactness and efficiency, the latter also thanks to more powerful control algorithms.

In other words, once again, the real competitive factor is the development of electronics. It is no coincidence that we develop them in-house at every stage of the process, from design to the final vibration test over the entire speed range.

(Smartgyro – Skill and talent – Barchemagazine.com – April 2024)