Make no mistake, manufacturers serving the motorsport sector have been far from free-wheeling in 2009, but those prepared to be progressive and maintain planned programmes of investment have fared best.
A case in point is Solihull-based Laranca Engineering, which, when reeling from the various crisis points to hit motorsport (particularly Formula One) earlier this year, was facing the loss of half of its predicted turnover virtually overnight. The options were to either batten down the hatches and pray for a miracle or continue with its pre-planned investment strategy, which included a 5-axis machining centre.
In bullish fashion, Laranca's managing director and ex-Formula Renault team owner Richard Shaw, chose the second course of action and now, some six months after the new Mikron UCP 600 Vario 5-axis machine's installation (Agie Charmilles), the decision to plough on with its investment plans has been totally vindicated.
Since its installation earlier this year, the machine has helped Laranca: machine parts in a single set-up, thereby helping to improve delivery times, and reducing time and resources spent on workholding; improve part accuracies, because work handling and part transfer (between machines) have been reduced; increase productivity through improved machine tool utilisation; and eliminate production bottlenecks.
Mr Shaw says that, some six months after the UCP 600 Vario's installation, Laranca has helped replace a significant proportion of the work that was 'lost' at the beginning of the year.
Encouragingly, investment is also continuing at the top of the supply chain, as demonstrated by the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula One team, which has recently installed three additional machine tools at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey. These machines played a pivotal role in the renewed success of the Formula One team, witnessed in the second half of the 2009 season.
The team's better performance is down to the improved aerodynamic packages that have been designed and manufactured at the McLaren Technology Centre. Crucial to this work was the production of large aluminium mould tools, from which the new wing components are manufactured. To produce these within the time constraints placed on the manufacturing team, it turned to its new Mazak Vortex 815/120-II high speed, 5-axis vertical machining centre.
Image: Mazak Vortex machines have slashed manufacturing times for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
"We initially expected to cut cycle times by 50 per cent, but what we actually achieved was a 75 per cent reduction," says senior production engineer Ian Greenfield. "Without the Vortex, we could not have delivered many of the parts to the tight schedules we were faced with."
McLaren has calculated that these new mould tools would have taken six hours to rough out on the old machines. This was cut to 40 minutes on the Vortex.
Another recent VMC installation in the motorsport sector can be witnessed at Cheshire-based CNC Heads. According to the company's Alastair Heywood, the key to achieving optimum engine performance improvements for race and track-day cars is the accuracy to which the cylinder head is modified. The manufacturing process begins with the scanning of a fully developed and flow tested cylinder head.
This information is then used to generate machine code for all cylinders, ensuring that they are all identical. The code is used to machine the valve throats, chambers and ports via the company's brand new XYZ Mini Mill 560, with the resulting machined finish described by CNC Heads as smooth – visually and to the touch.
Image: CNC Heads is using XYZ machines to successfully tackle complex cylinder head work
The decision to install the XYZ Mini Mill 560 was prompted by a requirement to re-manufacture V12 cylinder heads for a historic race engine.
To many manufacturers in the motorsport sector, cutting tools are of equal importance in delivering quality workpieces on time, often within 24 hours in the case of Formula One.
Gearing its business accordingly, High Wycombe-based Erode-All has encompassed this ethos with a series of 5-axis machining centres that utilise multiple part and pallet set-ups, combined with specialist tooling from ITC.
"Working with the F1 teams, we machine a considerable amount of metal matrix composite and titanium components," explains Erode-All engineer Kevin Blunt. "These are extremely abrasive and and have caused headaches for some of our tooling suppliers. However, we have found that the PCD and diamond coated range of tooling from ITC has proved beneficial."
For its metal matrix and composite components, the ITC range of PCD tools has proven advantageous. The ITC 2111 and 2102 Cyber Series of PCD end mills and ball nosed end mills are frequently used in 6, 8 and 10 mm diameter for complex 5-axis machining of difficult to cut materials. Once again, it is the rigidity and reach of up to 100 mm of the 2111 and 2102 Series that enables Erode All to machine complex forms without compromising surface finish.
OPPORTUNITY FAVOURS THE PREPARED
Sometimes unexpected opportunities arise where being unprepared can cost a host of future orders. For instance, when Havant-based Monolution received a call out of the blue from a Formula One team for some emergency mould work, the company knew it could rely on both its experience and its recent investment in YMT, Correa (Design & Technical Services) and DMG machining centre technology.
"Ever since that job, we have been a primary supplier to the team and word has spread from there. We now supply several F1 teams and sport car manufacturers with parts ranging from body and pattern mouldings for body parts to critical components like engine parts and gearboxes," says company director Dean Cleverley.
With the diversification of work and material type, the business needed higher quality cutting tools to match the feeds and speeds of its machine tools, as well as suit the nature of the workload.
"We initially tried TaeguTec's 20 mm diameter Bull Mill on one of our parts," says Mr Cleverley. "The Bull Mill increased the speeds and feeds beyond belief and it immediately reduced the cycle time from 1 hour 50 minutes to 52 minutes. Machining at 5 m/min, the cycle time was slashed by more than 50 per cent, so we decided to look at introducing the tools to our other processes."
Autosport Engineering 2010
Autosport Engineering, as part of Autosport International, takes place at the Birmingham NEC on 14-15 January 2010. Among the exhibitors from the manufacturing technologies sector will be XYZ Machine Tools. With much of the demand within motorsport being for prototype and small batch production, the focus will again be on XYZ's long-standing commitment to the 'workshop' environment.
Three of the five machines on the XYZ stand at Autosport Engineering will be CNC/manual models featuring the shopfloor programmable ProtoTRAK system, while the full CNC XYZ Compact Turn 52 turning centre and XYZ 710 vertical machining centre are equipped as standard with Siemens ShopTurn and ShopMill conversational control systems.
Another familiar name at the show will be portable measurement and imaging system specialist Faro, which has recently become a member of the Motorsport Industry Association.
"Autosport Engineering is a very important exhibition for Faro UK," says David Homewood, Faro UK's area vice president. "Our company is very strong in this sector and the show will give us the chance to reach a broad audience. We will be showing our whole range of measuring arms and portable scanning systems. Our aim is to make people realise how quick and easy measurements can be carried out."
First published in Machinery, December 2009