It is estimated that nearly 300 sponsors invest around £350 million across the teams lining up on the Formula One starting grid. And while certain smaller teams have lost sponsors, key backers such as Vodafone with McLaren and Marlboro with Ferrari are tied into long-term deals. It can also be argued that any shortage of sponsors will be short-lived for a sport with a reputation based on high speeds, good-looking young drivers, pit babes, champagne and photogenic locations.
And so production continues apace, particularly now that the opening race for 2009 in Melbourne, Australia looms large later this month. Final preparations, last minute component modifications and machining round the clock make for a frantic pre-season in the Formula One supply chain.
According to Hinckley-based MP Engineering, the secrets of successful component supply to Formula One teams are consistent, high quality, high accuracy parts, manufactured in small batches and delivered on time, every time.
"Being able to produce, in minimal lead times, highly complex parts from, for example, titanium, Inconel and Hastalloy is the Holy Grail of modern motorsport sub-contracting," says director Jason Poole. "I would even go so far as to suggest that if we hadn't embraced this way of working by adopting 5-axis machining – and, in particular, our latest investment in a Deckel Maho DMU eVo vertical machining centre
with integrated swivel rotary table — it is doubtful whether MP would be in the position it is today."
In terms of milling, the use of indexing tables on 3-axis vertical machining centres has, in recent, years enabled the company to produce a wide range of workpieces for motorsport giants – from body styling parts, through to engine components. But it is the capabilities of the DMU 50 eVo linear for true 5-axis,
5-sided machining that is enabling the company to 'turn on the style'.
"It's so much more than just three plus two equals five axes – in the DMU's case, the multi-axis functionality results in hitherto undreamed of savings in set-ups, and therefore improved accuracy and time savings," says Mr Poole.
This is confirmed by its 40 rpm B-axis for machining angles up to -18°, combined with linear drive in the X-axis that produces traverse rates up to 80 m/min (complemented by 50 m/min in both Y and Z axes). The 18,000 rpm spindle, supported by a double-gripper for 5 secs chip-to-chip times, is a further productivity booster.
Another Formula One sub-contractor investing in new machining technology is Havant-based Formaplex, which has recently installed two YCM high speed vertical machining centres
from YMT Technologies.
When the company started in 2001, it was predominantly supplying Formula One teams with tooling and patterns for the manufacture of composite carbon fibre parts, and today it still supports every one of the Formula One teams based in the UK. Motorsport is notorious for its short lead-times and the 50 m/min rapid feed rates on the YCM NSV 66A help with speed of manufacture.
ATTENTION TO FINE DETAIL
"The turnaround on a suite of tools varies with job complexity; small tools can be produced in 3 to 4 weeks, but 8 to 10 weeks is more typical for a full suite of tools," says the company's sales director, Andy Bone. "Here the NSV66A machining centre helps as it is good at picking out fine details with small diameter cutters running at high speed, thanks to the 15,000 rpm direct drive spindle."
While some companies such as Formaplex started off supplying Formula One teams, other sub-contractors have made it their business to diversify into this high profile sector. For instance, when Glen Tavender and Dave Moore acquired sub-contract wire and spark erosion company Erode All more than 12 years ago, the firm was dedicated to serving the mould and die industry with press tooling.
A subsequent business shift to encompass more flexible general machining brought a different workload and, in particular, a lucky break with a Formula One team. The successful project brought additional Formula One work and today 80 per cent of the company's workload comes from that area, with the business supplying virtually every team on the grid.
Success has arrived credit to investment in a series of high end DMG and GF AgieCharmilles (Mikron) machine tools. However, such investment demands CADCAM software that is also of high capability and for this the High Wycombe-based company chose hyperMILL V9.7 from Open Mind
"The Open Mind package has not only improved our 'drawing to machine' times, but it has exceptional routines and strategies that have improved the surface finishes and tolerances of our workpieces," says Mr Tavender. "Looking forward, we are now planning to invest in an additional two seats of hyperMILL to support our growing workload."
Of course, motorsport doesn't revolve around Formula One exclusively. The UK hosts several examples of the genre at both national and club level, including Rallycross, SuperMoto, Scrambling, Sports Car, GT and World Rally, and many sub-contractors enjoy success across these disciplines.
Sevenoaks-based RT Quaife Engineering, for example, has been developing specialist transmission systems for motorsport teams across the spectrum for more than 40 years.
"In the early days, price was always the first consideration when we purchased a new machine tool," says Mick Quaife, technical director. "This strategy did not necessarily deliver the value/performance that was required, so around three years ago we began the process of converting our entire turning section at Sevenoaks over to Mazak
. The change was driven by the quality of the machines and a desire to move to a more user-friendly control system."
Quaife's latest purchase, which was delivered just a few months ago, is a Mazak Quick Turn Nexus 250-II MY, equipped with optional bar feed unit. As standard, the machine features a 4000 rpm/26 kW turning spindle, with a 12-position turret and live tooling capability at each position. There is also a 100 mm Y-axis that helps Quaife produce transmission components such as gear blanks and shafts.
DREAMS AND AMBITION
Boyhood dreams of building and racing sports cars are probably the reason why many of today's engineers are in their chosen profession. And, for some, the dream lives on. A case in point is Jean Michel Vallet, who has his own sub-contract machining business in Rugles, France, approximately 130 km north of Le Mans, venue of the world's greatest 24-hour sports car endurance race.
Like many of his contemporaries, Mr Vallet was smitten by the sights and sounds of Le Mans and decided at an early age that one day he would own and race his own sports car. In the intervening 40 years or so, he has built his eponymous engineering workshop by making precision components for mostly local companies, but always with one eye on his long-held dream of building a race car and one day, perhaps, driving it at Le Mans.
Meanwhile, Mr Vallet has honed his knowledge and skills as a manufacturing engineer, equipping his sub-contract machine shop with a host of machine tools supplied by Haas.
"Haas machines have proved ideal for our growing company," he says. "For a start, all Haas machines have the same control, which means if you can program one, you can program them all. Plus, they're powerful, with lots of torque, which is ideal, because we often use large diameter end mills on stainless steel."
On the shopfloor at Vallet stands a VF-9 vertical machining centre among eight other CNC vertical machining centres
and five CNC turning centres. One of the Haas VF-1 models runs 24 hours a day, using a Kuka robot arm to change parts. But Mr Vallet hasn't lost sight of his motorsport dream.
"My aim is to create an entire racing car from just six solid blocks of aluminium, in 70 hours, using only four tools and one Haas machine."
Big blocks of aluminium, he admits, but just six, from which he intends to machine all of the major and supporting structural components, including the chassis and suspension. No castings, no extrusions, just solid parts.
If he succeeds, and the serious look in his eye says he intends to, he could be racing the car in a year or two. Expected cost? €100,000 for a modest road- going version: considerably more for something that is capable of putting up a good fight at the famous 24 heures du Mans. But, hey, it's good to dream.
Tools for the job
Rallying is one of the most arduous and competitive forms of motorsport and M-Sport from its base in Cockermouth is at the peak of this intense racing discipline, albeit with a little help from cutting tool supplier WNT.
Since 1997, M-Sport has been the focus of Ford's World Rally programme. In addition to building, preparing and managing the BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally team, the company also builds cars for a number of other teams, as well as developing 'kits' to convert Ford Fiestas into rally cars for private individuals.
Initially M-Sport sub-contracted the majority of its machining requirements, but its in-house manufacturing capacity has grown considerably in recent years, with the company having sunk more than £1 million of investment in three 5-axis machining centres and two turning centres.
"At times, we may get less than a day's notice of a design change and we have to be able to deliver the parts needed or it can have a big knock-on effect," says production manager Mark Donaughee. "This is why we've asked WNT to supply a variety of critical tools for the production of cylinder blocks, cylinder heads and suspension arms."
Among the WNT tools
being used by M-Sport is the ST fine boring head system, which is used in the machining of cylinder blocks for the Ford Focus World Rally cars.
"We are finding distinct performance benefits" says Ryan Kirkbride, M-Sport's machine shop supervisor. "The quality of the tools is superb, with excellent repeatability and adjustment down to 0.01mm. Furthermore, as it is classed as a standard product by WNT, we know that if we need to re-order it will be delivered next day."