With major motorsport disciplines such as Formula One, World Rally and British Touring Cars all up and running in their 2010 championships, it's a busy time for the supply chain. As teams battle for competitive gain, the resulting modifications will result in new components demanded on extremely short lead-times. Only those investing in the latest machinery and manufacturing technologies will be in a position to offer support.
And let's not forget two-wheeled counterparts. Sports such as MotoGP claim to have an equal if not larger following than many car-based racing championships. Development here is similarly fast-paced, a fact reflected in a number of recent investment projects in the sector.
Triumph Motorcycles at Hinckley, for example, has recently conducted extensive finish-reaming trials to improve its critical inlet and exhaust valve guide production for the 126 bhp, Daytona 675 Triple engine. The solution, provided by LMT UK (01676 523440), has demonstrated tool life improvements of 43 per cent over the nearest tooling competitor.
Indeed, so successful were the finish reamer trials that, once integrated into production, the tools led to a 15 per cent reduction in direct costs per valve guide for the 12-valve cylinder head. "This engine has a valve guide diameter less than 5 mm, which is too small for PCD, so the bore has to be held through carbide reaming to a tolerance of 0.015 mm on both inlet and exhaust valves," says production engineer Rob Doyle.
To progressively machine the guides and corresponding seat, a combination tool having a short pilot reamer pre-sizes the bore and an insert generates the three angles that comprise the valve seat. The pilot reamer enables the bore of the guide to be pre-sized leaving 0.03 mm of stock for final reaming, while the turning insert cuts the top leading and bottom trailing angles of the exhaust seat. A finishing reamer is then used to finally size the valve guide bore to a depth of 35 mm while maintaining a tolerance of 0.015 mm.
Triumph, is of course a world-renowned brand when it comes to motorcycle racing, as is its great competitor Norton, which is a particular favourite of Patrick Walker, the owner of development company Works Racing Motorcycle Ltd of Stratford-upon-Avon.
"The Manx Norton is such a famous motorcycle that there's a steady market in building and racing modern replicas," he says. "I was interested in buying a CNC mill so I could machine my own four-stroke engines. One of the most appealing factors in getting my own CNC machine is rapid prototyping; I can machine a single casting, test it, and transfer any improvements to the next cut. This can be a very expensive process using a sub-contractor."
Mr Walker spotted the Haas (0603 760539) Mini Mill 2 at the Autosport Engineering exhibition. Since installation, he has designed and built a manual fifth axis jig, which is used in conjunction with the Haas fourth axis rotary.
Image: Patrick Walker, the owner of development company Works Racing Motorcycle Ltd of Stratford-upon-Avon
"I simply lift a lever, rotate the component and lock it in place for the next cut," he says. "By using a Stark speedy module, which is a zero point mounting system (Roemheld, 0121 453 1414), I can change set-ups in seconds without having to clock the machine."
From motorcycle engines to exhausts – bespoke titanium exhausts to be precise – as manufactured by Racefit of Matlock on a recently installed Elect-63 CNC tube bender from BLM Group (01525 402555). The company's exhausts, which sport evocative names, such as Growler, Slash and Mega, are becoming increasingly popular in the motorsport sector. In fact, last year's FIM Sidecar World Championship-winning LCR Suzuki outfit carried a Racefit exhaust.
"Virtually every bit of our product involves tube that we have to buy in 200 m at a time and, at around £50 per metre, rejecting sub-contracted components because of wrinkles on the bends was expensive and time-consuming," says co-owner Phil Atkinson.
Image: Racefit produces exhausts for outfits like this, using a BLM CNC tube bender
The multi-stack tool mounting facility on the all-electric BLM Elect-63 CNC tube bender allows multi-radius and variable radius bending of the same tube to take place in a single set-up. Bends with very little straight between them, even compound bends, can also be accommodated, along with tight bends that can have a radius that is less than the tube diameter.
Box item 1
Gearing up for investment
For more than 44 years, the name Quaife has been synonymous with high performance transmission systems, and given the high quality demands placed on motorsport transmissions, Sevenoaks-based Quaife guards heavily against failure-in-use of its units. As part of the company's quest for continuous improvements, Glen Molineux, the company's general manager recently purchased a range of XT Xtreme bore gauges from Bowers Metrology (08708 509050).
"We measure a lot of high tolerance, internal bores, both in-process and at the final inspection stage," he says. "As the bore gauges we were looking to source would often be used in close proximity to machine tools, a relatively hostile measuring environment, we needed to ensure that our eventual choice of gauge would be 'shopfloor-proof'."The answer was Bowers' XT Xtreme range, featuring electronics with IP65 rating, rendering them resistant to coolant, water and airborne particles.
Image: Quaife measures many of its parts, like these, using Bowers XT XTreme bore gauges
Another specialist in the manufacture of motorsport transmissions is Hewland Engineering, which has installed two machines, supplied by HK Technologies (01788 577288). The Mitsubishi FA10-S Advanced V-Package and Kapp VUS 55P represent the first wire EDM and gear grinding machines on site at the company's headquarters near Maidenhead. Both processes were previously sub-contracted, a situation that had its drawbacks, as the company's business co-ordination director Stephen Deane explains.
"Bringing EDM and gear grinding processes in-house is not only about saving costs and achieving better control over factors such as design and delivery, it's about respecting customer confidentiality, something that is critical in the motorsport arena," he underlines.
Box item 2
In 2002, Salcey Precision Engineering, a precision sub-contractor near Northampton, demonstrated its forward-thinking attitude and progressive philosophy with its first 5-axis investment, a Mikron UCP 600, supplied by GF AgieCharmilles (02476 538666). Over the subsequent eight years, a further four Mikron 5-axis machines (HSM 400U models) have been installed.
Today, the company is actively involved in a number of engine build programmes, manufacturing Formula One engine components for customers such as Mercedes-Benz and Cosworth. Many of the parts machined are located in the engine's valve-train; typical tolerances are ±10 micron, with surface finishes of 0.6 Ra or better.
"If you look at the type of motorsport parts we manufacture and the challenges we confront in manufacturing them, it is self-evident why we continue to invest in 5-axis technology," says Richard Alcock, managing director at Salcey Precision. "Complex, high precision jobs can be set-up and machined in one-hit. That means less workholding, fewer fixtures and reduced work-handling and operator involvement, which in turn results in faster turn-rounds and cost savings."
First published in Machinery, April 2010