FEATURE: Motorsport and the auto industry - a case study in technology transfer
The real links between Formula One and the automotive industry are often pushed by participating manufacturers but is there really a transfer of technology that benefits road users, and do the motorsport suppliers offer something that traditional suppliers cannot? just-auto has visited one motorsport firm that is successfully transferring its racing knowledge, expertise and products to the road.
The world of motorsport is often considered to be glamorous, not a parallel that many would make with automotive programmes. But behind the hospitality tents lies an environment that has created "can do it better, faster or lighter" culture that is not at the expense of durability or reliability. Where traditional tier one suppliers would have rejected projects due to resource, timing or insufficient volumes, motorsport companies are helping OEMs quickly meet legal criteria, performance or weight limits.
UK-based BERU f1systems is one such company embracing the opportunity. It provides a comprehensive design, manufacture and support capability for wiring harnesses, integrated component stress measurement, composite structures and real-time tyre pressure monitoring. The organisation's motor sport heritage has led to the development of robust solutions capable of fulfilling the most demanding weight, package size and environmental criteria. The high speed of motor sport product development has also created a flexible and responsive culture, capable of turning round complex projects extremely rapidly. Its first OEM project was the Bugatti Veyron and since then they have gone on to work with further eight OEMs including Lamborghini and Canadian bus manufacturer Prevost.
"The high speed nature of motorsport product development means that time is critical and responsiveness vital," says ex-F1 engineer and now managing director of BERU f1systems John Bailey. "However, the industry is notoriously seasonal; considerable activity over the winter as new cars are built for the upcoming season precedes quiet summer months leading to potential downtime and engineering resource not being fully utilised."
BERU f1systems needed to fill the downtime effectively, selling its skills to markets that could provide a more consistent workflow. With a combination of electronics, software and mechanical expertise, it was well placed to deliver complete solutions but first, it had to make sure that its processes were streamlined so it could compete against more mainstream offerings.
John Bailey instigated a plan to target markets that required rugged engineering solutions. Defining this and other strengths of their motorsport products, Bailey and his colleagues researched markets that could benefit from Right First Time implementation and a rapid turnaround. "There were areas where we could immediately see where we could make a difference," adds Bailey.
The timing was also right. Legislation in the US (TREAD act) was forcing OEMs to fit tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) to new cars and trucks. OEMs needed solutions for existing platforms and architectures, including low volume cars. Tier One solutions were uneconomic at this level but it quickly became apparent that the robust and proven DigiTyre system from BERU f1systems, a product that had been designed to work on numerous race cars could be the answer. "DigiTyre is very flexible," claims Bailey. "Coupled with that, we have in-house software engineers able to modify code immediately, that's the motorsport culture." The results were impressive - the Bugatti programme from concept to delivered job one parts was completed in less than 20 months. "The Veyron programme was, in some cases, a harsher environment than an F1 car," says Bailey. "With temperatures reaching over 100°C and G forces exceeding 2900G, traditional OEM tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) would struggle to last. On a production saloon the system normally experiences 2000G, but with 21 inch wheels, the Veyron 16.4 exerts over 2900G of centrifugal force on the wheel electronics, the 35g weight in effect becoming over 80Kg."
The programme led the firm to create a suite of supporting products including diagnostics and end of line test equipment for other OEMs. It also led the firm to think how it could apply technologies from its other divisions to the OEM market, notably its composites sector. Two years ago the firm started to develop Wire in Composite (WiC). WiC completely encloses the wires in a composite sleeve, protecting wiring assemblies against damage caused by vibration and harsh environmental conditions. In addition, the technology reduces packaging size by laying wires securely side-by-side as opposed to a traditional bundle. The result is a simpler and lighter component with improved durability, even in harsh conditions. Highly aesthetic, the first working sample was chosen to feature on Jaguar's C-XF concept car at Detroit 2007. OEMs were initially reticent to jump to such a radical technology after many decades designing and packaging traditional looms but BERU f1systems has now started work on "a couple" of OEM applications. It is even hoped that the first road application will only be a year behind its debut in F1.
As the company expands it is facing increased exposure to larger organisations and their procedures. Lengthy RFQ processes, increased quality validation, auditing and cost breakdown information form part of sourcing decisions. Despite the restrictions these impose, the company is keen to retain a rapid time to market. "It is essential and is appreciated by our customers," says Bailey.
The company plans to continue to manufacture in the UK despite the pressure to switch to lower labour cost countries. The firm has just installed a new 350ºC high temperature and pressure autoclave that will allow it to produce high quality and highly intricate lightweight composite parts that could be the solution for OEMs looking to achieve stringent weight targets in the future.
"We are developing methods to produce, at higher volumes, composite parts that could fulfil multiple functions, such as wiring harness and load bearing structure" concludes Bailey.
"This is another area where motorsport could offer a genuine technology transfer to the road."