A TALE OF SOUND AND FURY | Motorsport Castings Comment
New regulations in Formula One have showcased the wealth of innovation within the UK’s motorsport supply chain, says Tom Greenwood of global automotive castings specialist Grainger & Worrall.
After all of the controversy about vehicle reliability, track times and the sound of the new engines has died down, one fact will remain clear; the 2014 Formula One season has demonstrated the excellence of the global industry’s engineering talent. Far from creating unsurmountable barriers, regulatory changes and component restrictions have added a new lustre of technology to the modern starting grid. Indeed pre-test concerns over reliability and performance have, in the most part, been overcome with significant research and development into next-generation solutions.
While regulatory changes have challenged the capabilities of both teams and drivers, it seems that the need for lighter, more fuel efficient engines has created a significant opportunity for the wider supply chain to showcase its talents and capability.
The R&D imperative
The voice of environmental lobbying in F1 has grown significantly over the last few years, with ongoing concern surrounding the sport’s environmental impact and resource efficiency.
As well as limiting teams to a maximum of five engines per driver for the season duration, engine capacity regulations have again been changed by the FIA – as part of a continued trend towards lightweighting and downsizing. In practice, this means that each car on the grid is now powered by an eco-friendly, 1.6 litre turbo-charged V6 next-generation alternative. Although lighter, smaller, greener and more efficient
than ever before, the adoption of these engines has presented a number of challenges to race teams, who focus on reliability and performance to assure their position on the points board.
The challenge of innovation
Engine downsizing creates a whole new architecture for manufacturers and has presented a number of R&D challenges, specifically for race engineers. As well as developing next-generation technology in a highly restricted timescale, teams have had to maintain the high quality component performance of recent seasons. The 2014 engines must support the increased demand of reliability in the face of higher combustion pressure, duty cycle and durability, while embracing more complex internal cored passages than ever before.
But rather than restrict capabilities and reduce performance, these changes have acted as a catalyst to innovation, with partners along the supply chain taking on the challenge and developing new and ground-breaking solutions to push engine technologies to the limit.
At Grainger & Worrall, we realised we needed to step up to a completely new level, introducing new technologies to meet regulatory demands. Much of our technology introduction has focused on decreasing the development time of our castings. We have invested hundreds of man hours to achieve sound castings and have been meeting the demands of F1 for many years. However, with the introduction of an entirely new V6 – with a shorter development time than ever before and all during the V8 production period – we needed to shorten the time of our development.
In addition to this, we needed to support our customers’ design programs by changing geometries at short notice and in the middle of development. We achieved this by bringing 3D core printing in-house and improving the efficiency of our development route. Casting simulation and CT scanning were used heavily and to better effect than before.
A constant challenge when working to the short casting development times required by our motorsport customers is making the tooling quick enough. In the foundry we need to change casting methodology, potentially several times, to achieve a sound casting which is free of shrinkage porosity. In addition to this, the short engine design and testing timescales that our customers work to requires us to change the component geometry during our casting development. Traditionally, both of these processes require modifying the tooling – another process that eats into our development time.
Bringing 3D sand core printing in-house has allowed us to produce cores of nearly any shape overnight. We use this cutting-edge technology to arrive at a truly robust casting method and adjust component geometry ahead of making the final tooling for production.
To increase the efficiency of this process even further, we have developed a unique, modular tooling approach which is a hard tool – 3D printed hybrid. Although the objectives from motorsport are often different depending on the team, we have found this approach gives us greater flexibility in prototype development for the wider automotive market.
One of the development loops which became greatly improved was the process of offsetting the geometry of water jacket cores to compensate for casting distortion. We were able to produce multiple cores with different off set with 3D core printing – enabling us to cast them and accurately measure the water jacket position with CT scanning faster than ever.
CT scanning has been elementary to the whole development process. Gaining an understanding of a casting’s integrity and geometric accuracy with the ability to examine non-destructively both the interior and exterior of the parts enables a detailed picture of how castings are behaving at every stage of the manufacturing process. This is essential to establishing the true characteristics of components and delivering excellent results to meet downsizing requirements.
By embracing this innovation, as well as investing in material development and precise scanning technology to push capabilities to the limit, Grainger & Worrall has used changing regulations to encourage new and effective alternatives – not only to meet regulations but also progress engine possibilities.
Forming the future
As the season progresses, teams will gain huge insight into performance and overall effectiveness of the next-generation engine solutions. Today, these developments are helping to drive forward the future of Formula One, but it won’t be long before this specialist knowledge and progression will be put to good use by the wider automotive sector. 3D printing is great start, but as the world’s leading complete race engine casting provider, we see many more exciting challenges ahead. Developing technologies even further and driving forward the R&D of key components is key to meeting the ever-changing needs of the global automotive sector. This will not only help to meet regulation, but also push capabilities to the limit.