Webinar extract: Getting Back on Track with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Learn more about how Aston Martin Red Bull Racing are applying Hexagon solutions in the constantly evolving world of Formula 1 racing in this extract from a recent customer webinar featuring Zoe Chilton, Head of Technical Partnerships at AMRBR.

Welcome to HxGN Radio. Today we have another instalment in our podcast series going behind the scenes at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing.

We recently had the opportunity to invite Zoe Chilton, Head of Technical Partnerships at AMRBR, to join us for a webinar, where she explained some of the challenges facing an elite Formula 1 race team, and how some of those challenges are being met head on with the help of Hexagon metrology solutions. Over to you Zoe.

“Aston Martin Red Bull Racing are working hand-in-hand with Hexagon as an innovation partner to help us get our car to the track in the best possible way, with hopefully the best possible performance and reliability.
“We are a very split business, so the part of the race team that you will all see on the TV, particularly this weekend when we’re in Austria, these guys trackside are only about 10 percent of our business. So they are the most visible, they are the most public facing, but actually what happens on track, it’s our moment of success or failure, but it’s not actually where all of the performance is developed.

“Most of that creation of competitive advantage happens back in our factory in Milton Keynes in the UK, where we start every component, every design from a blank sheet of paper, from a blank CAD drawing, we start from scratch and we try to design and develop quality and performance into every part, from the drawing board all the way through to the track. And the thread that kind of runs through that journey is digital insight.

“It’s all about capturing data, using that to learn about your product and your processes, and then creating insight that is actionable from that.

“In our world that means every time that car goes on track or in a wind tunnel or even in the virtual world in CFD, which we’ll talk about in a minute, we are learning, always learning, always capturing data, and we’re using that data to constantly iterate and improve our design.

“Formula 1 is the ultimate innovative motorsport. We have pretty much free rein within a small set of parameters, our job is to try and get the most performance out of that set of regulations that we can, and to do that you have to be innovative.

“The core of the car, the chassis, the gearbox, the engine, they’re pretty much the same by regulation for the whole season. But race-to-race, between each of these markets that we have to address for the driver, we could make up to a thousand design changes.

“Across the course of a season though, just to put this in context, we’re talking about up to 30 000 design changes. So this makes for an incredibly compressed design evolution process. We have to be accurate, we have to be fast. We have to be making those decisions driven by real data from the track that shows us whether our first engineering principles were correct, and if they were, what do we need to learn from them for the next circuit?

“We’re also looking at historical race data, because we might have a lot of information about Austria, for example. We know a lot about the circuit there because we’ve raced there in previous seasons, so we can pull all of that data back and help us to inform our design decisions going forwards.

“Every single test, every race, every test session, every practice session is crucial. It’s where we collect data, we prove our ideas. But every session we have new components. So, how does this push engineering change through our factory and how are Hexagon helping us to get there? This is the really interesting part.

“Aerodynamic components that we might change race-by-race would include things like the front wing, the rear wing and floor of the car, which combine to produce about 90 percent of the car’s downforce. They really dictate how well this car moves through the air, grips the track and how much confidence the driver has in the car. We also might look at things like the brake ducts, because some tracks require more cooling than others, so there’s a number of other things across the car that might have small tweaks and edits to improve cooling or airflow.

“But let’s focus for a minute on the front wing, because it’s nice easy to explain. Everyone knows what it is, it’s the first thing that hits the air, it’s really really crucial to performance, and you’ll see if you’ve watched a race recently, if somebody takes a small dent on the front wing, if something falls off it, it makes an immediate and really dramatic impact on that car performance.

“So, we start this process with a CAD model. We start it with a process of very detailed modelling and the aerodynamicists will have a few different theories potentially on what they think will be the best shape of front wing for this next circuit that we’re approaching. We then have to use CFD, or computational fluid dynamic analysis, to basically put the car in a virtual wind tunnel.

“This is showing us where the high- and low-pressure areas will be created in the airflow around the car. This is a method of digital prototyping that is very cost effective because it means we don’t have to spend time creating a physical model and putting it through testing. The virtual model allows us to run a simulation, spot a small problem, make a small adjustment, run it again, and we could make 10 or 20 iterations in a day, whereas if we were making physical models that would take multiple days. So, it allows us to do a lot more of the process in the digital world.

“What we can do then is create model of that car to go into our wind tunnel. Now the interesting thing here is that regulation requires our wind tunnel models are miniaturised, so they are only 60 percent of the scale of a real car. This means we have to try and print, often using additive manufacturing technology, miniature components.

“Now, the interesting part from what we do with Hexagon, is actually that these components we’re manufacturing in small scale have to be so incredibly accurate to the CAD model, and therefore to the CFD simulation that we did, because otherwise the results we get from our wind tunnel will not correlate, they will not be representative of what we did in the virtual world. A millimetre difference on a wind tunnel model, once that’s scaled up to the full size of the car, will make a real substantial impact on aerodynamic performance. So we have to inspect down to micron level to make sure that everything we expected to see from the virtual simulation is reflected in the physical test.

“Finally, when we are able to scale up for the full-sized car and we actually start making components to go racing, we’re then working with very complex manufacturing techniques. It’s not as simple as a 3D printer anymore, suddenly we have to hand manufacture using composites which require models and pattern blocks, and we have to assemble dozens of components to make one front wing.

“And again, inspecting, not only at the end of a process but at every stage in that process, is what gives us confidence that that front wing we manufacture at full size, will replicate what we saw at 60 percent scale in the wind tunnel, and will also replicate what we saw in the digital world. This correlation across all the types of model is really crucial to enable us to learn. If we can’t accurately replicate in the digital world what we see in the physical world, and vice versa, it’s very difficult to use data to drive insightful change, because perhaps those two pieces of information don’t line up so you’re not learning anything when you take the car on track.

“This process is underpinned by the metrology tools that Hexagon have helped us to install and train and use in our factory.

“As an overview, thinking about every stage of our manufacturing process, we are inspecting using Hexagon tools – we actually have four different quality and inspection departments located around our business, each taking different pieces of that job.

“So when we’re looking at a front wing, for example, you have a designer, using the CAD model, they have a very accurate view of what they would like to achieve. So then when we’re then manufacturing in our CNC machine shop, there will be small metallic components and we’ll be able to inspect those before they are assembled. When we are thinking about the composite elements of that front wing – and there could be sort of 80 or 90 individual pieces that have to be assembled together to create the finished article – but thinking about the composite pieces, we want to inspect not the finished component, that’s not the only thing. You also have to inspect the pattern block on which you’re manufacturing composite parts. Then you inspect the composite part as an individual component, particularly using things like the Absolute Arm, which can give you very fast, very rapid results that are very accurate, to help us improve quality in the process.

“Then you go to assembly. A lot of this is done by bonding components together and it’s all done by hand, so the risk of slight changes and slight differences is quite high. Despite having some of the best composite fitters in the country, it’s only a human application, so we have to inspect again once it’s complete.

“We have this incredible manufacturing tracking room in our factory. This room is where we follow every component, from the drawing release from our design office all the way through every step of manufacturing, each department that it will touch, each process that it goes through, each crucial point of inspection sign off, all the way through to which flight it’s going to get on to go to the race.

“That’s how detailed we have to be. These guys are engineering time at this point, because if the inspection process is slow, it could actually mean the part misses its flight and doesn’t get to the race, in which case everything else that you’re rushing to do becomes irrelevant.

“So we really have a very hard project deadline. There is no delaying, there is no moving back or pushing back the timing. Lead time is crucial, but cost, quality and lead time, that traditional triangle of concerns that every manufacturing business has – it’s exactly the same for us.

“Cost is when we have parts that don’t pass inspection. We try our very best to take lots of measures, both in our supply chain and our in-house manufacturing, to avoid that – there are no concessions, there are no scrapped parts. Quality, because every single component is going to dictate your success or failure on track. And lead time, because if it doesn’t make it in time, we don’t go to the race, or we don’t perform as well as we hoped.

“When you watch the race this weekend, think about the fact that every component on that car, everything which is safety critical, performance critical, cooling critical, they have been touched by Hexagon products, they have been signed off by our inspection team using Hexagon metrology equipment, and it gives us reassurance, it gives us confidence that that car on track is exactly as we manufactured it, exactly as we planned it in the CAD process and the CFD simulation. That’s what gives us that continuity of digital learning to help us produce better and better performance throughout the season. That’s what gets us back on track.”

Many thanks to Zoe, that was some really valuable insight into what goes on behind the scenes at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. If you’d like to learn even more about what gets the team back on track, register for one of our upcoming webinars featuring other members of the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing technical team, or look out for the next instalment in this podcast series.

To learn more about Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, head to hexagonmi.com, and to learn more about Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, head to redbullracing.com.
Thanks for listening.


  • Mark D'Urso

    A marketing and communications specialist for over a decade, Mark D’Urso joined Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence as a member of the Portables Product Line in 2016. He has since played a central role in defining messaging and producing content for several new product launch campaigns.

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