Speedy by design

Formula 1 grand prix poses the ultimate design challenge, with up to 95% of each race car changed from one season to another. Brian Davies traces 3D from drawing board to track.

Formula 1 grand prix poses the ultimate design challenge, with up to 95% of each race car changed from one season to another. Use of 3D solid modelling is a fairly recent initiative by racing team designers, dating back just two or three years.

Previously most teams favoured conventional 2D drawings. Todaymultiple reconfigurations of the cars are carried out from race to race and event to event using digital mock-ups, product data management (PDM), web portals and much else besides.

This is no mean achievement as the top competitors such as McLaren operate two F1 teams, one for competition with three cars, the other a test team with two cars that are constantly undergoing experiments using innovative components.

Though McLaren began using CAD in the 1980s, it started defining components exclusively using a CAD system (originally from Computervison) only in 1992. In 1999 the company switched to IBM and Dassault Systemes’ Catia V4, of which it now has around 80 seats.

The move was dictated by the need for tighter integration with CFD simulation.Catia’s CAD/CAM/CAE is used for chassis design by seven out of the 12 teams (McLaren, Benetton, Ferrari, Arrows, Prost, Sauber and Toyota, which is developing a car for the 2002 season) – plus several of the engine manufacturers, including Ilmor Racing Engines (developer of the Mercedes engine for McLaren), Renault (for Benetton), Asiatech (for Arrows), Honda (for Jordan and BAR) and BMW (for Williams).

Because of the restrictive technical regulations for Formula 1 design, performance breakthroughs are rare these days, so incremental improvement is everything. Mike Plowman, IBM engineering projects director, explains the need for optimising each of the 3,500 components in a racing car. ‘If you can make just 0.1% improvement during tests, then you can move up the grid significantly.’

Development is astoundingly fast. Most teams start designing next year’s car in July, for construction in October and testing by Christmas and through January and February. The racing season lasts from March to early October, and testing continues in parallel, until December.

McLaren has about 60 designers, including four handling finite element analysis, six in the CFD group and 50 in the Vehicle Technology R&D group.

About 85% of each car is built in-house, apart from the engine and a few brake components. The carbon-fibre floors, top bodies and chassis are hand-built, using a novel laser projection system with specialist composite layingsoftware. McLaren is one of the few teams to design and manufacture its own gearboxes.

Solid modelling gives complete definition to every part of the car, from aerodynamics and safety analysis through to detailed design, analysis and kinematic simulation on the powertrain and control systems.

Digital mock-up and assembly enable rapid evaluation and quick part changes. In fact, the whole powertrain can be changed on the vehicle in just six minutes.

‘At any time there is an enormous amount of change and activity going on,’ says Plowman. All this has to be captured and recorded on an event-by-event basis. This calls for stringent knowledge management and the ability to map the overall configuration of each car as it develops.

McLaren has a complete electronic information management system, with web-enabled links to suppliers and the trackside. 3D data is shared between technicians, designers, the manufacturing staff (mostly in-house) and the team at the race.

‘We make an effort to wipe out any chance of unauthorised change,’ Plowman says. An authority-driven change control mode manages task execution throughout the design process. The system tracks when changes are implemented, ensures traceability and allows analysis of the impact of any changes. ‘It also prevents creating an enormous amount of scrap as parts are replaced,’ Plowman says.

Use of the digital mock-up ensures that everybody works from the same design, and enables fast clash detection. This is especially important when managing prototypes, with information drawn from many sources.

McLaren is testing the Enovia portal for communication between the designers and the factory floor. Eventually it plans to use it for communicating with the trackside and Ilmor Engineering.

Design engineer Scot Bain says the speed of working can be breathtaking: ‘The main question for new engineering recruits is: can they take the pace? Sometimes we draw something in the morning and it is made in the afternoon, bagged out and shipped out to a trackside on the other side of the world. Everybody has to work concurrently. This is real just-in-time production.’

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