Design constraints sharpen leadership Motorsport design has been pushed to excel by the intense delivery constraints of the sport and the physical stress to which the components are subjected. Clever design engineers, digital product development that avoids prototypes and powerful PLM software are keeping motorsport the leading industry for design-to-manufacture, says Will Stirling.
Motorsport design engineers are often among the best in their profession for two reasons: 1) skills are honed by the intense, time-urgent delivery constraints their industry works to, and 2) the components they design for manufacture must perform at ultra-high loads and temperatures, and often need to be machined and assembled far more quickly than in other industries.
But how are motorsport design engineers using technology and their own skills to fulfil these demanding design-to-manufacture briefs? How do their design techniques reduce time-to-market (or time-to-race) as well as reducing costs and carbon emissions? Some motorsport engineering businesses and IT support companies tell TM how they best leverage their design knowledge and technologies to ‘beat the deadline’.
The race dates don’t change
The approach to design – Xtrac
Xtrac designs and manufactures gearboxes, differentials and other high performance components for clients across all motorsports, including Formula One, World Rally and the Indy Racing League. Adrian Moore, technical director at the Thatcham, Berks-based company, says there is a different ethos about design-to-manufacture within the motorsport fraternity, and at Xtrac especially.
“There’s a fundamental difference in philosophy compared to more general engineering companies where people tend to work more in silos – design office people design, R&D does R&D and the manufacturing people make stuff. Our project teams are much more integrated. There is a commercial person, an engineer and manufacturing person working in sync, and every project is led that way.” Moore used to work for Rolls-Royce. In aerospace, he says, the process is geared more around top level sign-off for projects. “You present your work to a large committee who then either agree to it – where it may be deferred to another committee – or not. This achieves the safety you need in aerospace but you don’t get anything done very quickly.”
In motorsport the responsibility all rests on the project team, who are more autonomous than departmental heads at big companies. The design process in aerospace is more protracted for a good reason – the end product must be ultra-safe. This takes time and is expensive to get product to market. “If you follow that model for a Formula One car, you’d have a perfect car that was three years late,” Moore says. “The risk of failure in motorsport is extremely high but there’s a higher acceptance of risk in motorsport than a taking an Easyjet flight.” In motorsport, he says, “the end customers are the people who run the car in competition. The delivery dates don’t change because the race dates don’t change.”
Xtrac uses Unigraphics NX, part of Siemens PLM Software’s Teamcenter platform, for CAD design and product lifecycle management (PLM) analysis, and is about to upgrade to NX6.
“We always stay a bit behind the curve on the releases, because of reliability and consistency,” says Moore. “We absolutely want a stable CAD platform.” The company uses the “master model concept” of PLM, with all component designs in 3D CAD models that are used throughout the whole enterprise. “We use it for design, analysis, machine programming, for inspection and validation. That is how the visionaries of CAD wanted these things to happen. Many companies don’t use it this way,” Moore says. An enterprise resource planning platform integrates with Teamcenter PLM, connecting departments like finance and sales and order processing to the product management.
Xtrac is a big user of Ansys for mechanical analysis, virtually testing parts at different loads, loads at temperature, deflections etc, for casings and general engineering. And the company has a whole suite of gear analysis tools, some of which are written in-house. “Our advanced engineering group develops its own software tools for, for example, analysis of specific gear-related issues.” Casings, says Moore, are simple to visualise but extremely complicated to design, under the constraints of weight, strength and time-to-market.
Xtrac has worked with CAD Potential, a third party training firm, which has helped it get the best results from its software.“Some of the casings we’ve done have pushed the Unigraphics system to the limit – the number of features on a model tree is very high.” Xtrac is part of a consortium bid for the Ministry of Defence’s new Light Protected Patrol Vehicle, an armoured vehicle intended for use in Afghanistan (see lead story page 16). Adrian Moore says some military contracts are remarkably similar to motorsport work.
“Volumes are similar, in terms of vehicle numbers and prototypes, there’s a very fixed target date, very strong safety ethos in both sectors. If you have transmission failures on military vehicles people get killed. You can’t have vehicle failure in the Le Mans 24 hour race because it’s cost you £20m or however much to go there. We’re translating that absolute desire to succeed into a military application which demands zero failure.”
Formula 1 goes digital
The technology partner
Tongues wagged in Formula 1 this year when debutant Virgin Racing joined the F1 big boys.
With the help of design partner Wirth Research, the Virgin team produced the world’s first fully digitally engineered Formula 1 car using a radically different process from traditional race team engineering.
The approach has been tried and tested in several motorsport formulae, including the Indy Racing League and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) with Honda Performance Development, before being introduced to F1. In the ALMS, the two cars took championship wins in both categories in 2009 after only three years.
US company CSC is a partner to Virgin Racing and has provided technology solutions to clients including NASA and BAE Systems. Vice president of CSC Nigel Kirkham is responsible for the partnership with Virgin. “CSC provides the IT systems and support for Virgin Racing’s headquarters, factory and race track environments.
These are essential both in getting the car to the track, and in providing the data that validates the analysis and simulation hypotheses, delivering ever more accurate and useful results with every iteration.” Cost reduction is the driver behind a digital F1 package. Kirkham says the fully digital approach will allow the team to match if not increase the throughput of the established F1 teams, but without the significant cost of running with a wind tunnel.
The digital approach does not give Formula 1 a comparative advantage in reducing time-to-market alone, rather one of remaining competitive in terms of time-to-market while running with a fraction of the budget and resource of the other teams. “Next year significant resource restrictions come into force in the sport,” Kirkham says. “With a year’s worth of learning behind them, Virgin should be in a position to leverage the new approach to deliver faster timeto- market for improvements and updates to the car than its competitors.” In terms of both carbon and cost reductions, the Virgin/Wirth approach abandons the production of physical prototypes and test parts in favour of fully virtual test and analysis as part of a full computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and simulation programme. But the greatest saving, Kirkham says, is that energy hungry wind tunnels have been eliminated from the design and development process. Several F1 teams have both half and full-scale tunnels, costing tens of millions of dollars to build and just as much to run. Nick Wirth, technical director at Virgin Racing, believes that this modelling and testing process is inefficient and less effective than what can be achieved digitally.
The main difference with going digital is the unique design development process (see box). “This currently enables more with less, in terms of design iterations for a given resource pool, but will enable faster timeto- market when resources are reduced for all teams next year,” adds Kirkham.
Virgin Racing’s fully digital model is unproven in F1, with its best position to date 14th in the Malaysian Grand Prix, but the whole motorsport industry will be glued to its progress.
The team’s success could herald a new wave of completely digitally produced F1 contenders.
PLM helps fuel cell firm look outside the box –
Powerful software solves design puzzles
Aero Tec Laboratories (ATL) designs and makes fabric-based collapsible and flexible fuel cells and fuel systems for all the F1 teams as well as for other motorsport teams including many of the Le Mans entrants. From its UK facility in Milton Keynes and in the US the company also supplies to aerospace, NASA (water and waste cells used in space) the marine sector and the rapidly growing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market.
Aero Tec uses CATIA, Dassault Système’s multiplatform CAD/CAM/CAE software suite for product design and PLM, implemented by reseller Desktop Engineering.
Fuel cells must often be inserted into a metal or carbon fibre fabrication through the fuel filter aperture, but with legacy software the curves had to be made from straight lines. “We dealt with the designs as a two-dimensional problem, and from CAD data constructed a mock-up from card, using that to check the template as a pattern to cut the actual cell fabric,” says Craig Dawson, the previous chief engineer at ATL. “This worked, but only as a physical process, it did not translate well into digital design until we used the new software.
We needed a single integrated PLM system to accommodate the entirety of our design-tomanufacture processes including design, structural analysis and data management.” The Desktop Engineering-tailored package incorporates Catia, Simulia and Enovia to improve PLM visibility, a system Dawson describes as “future-proof”. “With DTE we have developed methods that allow us to change digital models from 3D to 2D,” says Dawson. “This allows us to design the fuel cell and add all the components such as fillers, valves and plates as well as internal details, then unfold the design to represent the flat pieces of material that we use for construction.”
ATL can now digitally build a complete fuel cell, with additional components more accurately represented, and place it within the design envelope of the recipient vehicle – with no cardboard mock-up – so it can better optimise fuel cell manufacture. “The ability to make a flat plan from a 3D model and accurately fit ancillary components, optimise the design and use clash detection to fit it to its reverse engineered host, is all new and gives us a massive advantage. We are saving money, time, resources and materials while making better products that help teams win more races.”