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PLM: Formula for Racing Success

When talking about Formula One auto racing, most people think of one thing: speed. Each driver and each car has been fine-tuned to consistently put down the lap times that are within milliseconds of what is physically possible.  

But in Formula One, speed isn’t a quality exclusive to the racetrack. Each F1 team keeps up with lightning-fast product lifecycles while also developing safe and aerodynamically superior vehicles. To ensure quality along with speed, F1 teams rely on PLM solutions to ensure not only swift and seamless turnaround, but also to deliver the best possible car to the racetrack.

One team that entered the F1 arena in 2005 has already staked out their place in the field by winning the Drivers’ and Constructors’ world titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012. They are Infiniti Red Bull Racing, and they’ve credited Siemens PLM solutions as being a large part of their success.

While F1 engineers may tackle similar questions as those in the automotive or aerospace industries, they are under considerably more pressure to deliver. Instead of turning out a new product each year, F1 cars undergo updates once every few weeks to keep up with a strenuous racing schedule.

“The thing here that’s very unique is the timeframe we work under,” explained Matt Cadieux, CIO of Infiniti Red Bull. “The engineering that goes into our cars is similar to what you have in main automotive or aerospace. But where their product development cycles are years, we work in days, weeks and months.”

The racing season contains about 19 or 20 races, each with about two weeks in between them. In this time engineers come together to design upgrades to the car, which then must be manufactured and installed in the vehicle. On average, this downtime is evenly divided between design and production, giving engineers only a week to design, model and simulate new parts.

According to Cadieux, what made Siemens the right company for the job was something we’ve been hearing from a number of the company’s customers: they go the extra kilometer to meet the unique requirements for each of their customers.

“We have a very good relationship with the technical guys who can tell us how to get the most out of the products or work with us to configure or even sometimes customize the products so they’re really highly tuned to the workflows we have in the company,” said Cadieux. “All of our processes are very streamlined—if it doesn’t add value, we don’t do it. So having the ability to configure Teamcenter workflows really gives us an advantage.”

Alan Peasland, head of technical partnerships at Infiniti Red Bull Racing was also quick to point to Siemens when accounting for the team’s recent successes.

“The frequency of races that started with both cars on the front row of the grid, and race events with one-two finish positions, clearly demonstrates a level of consistency and quality that is achieved with the support of a highly integrated and efficient PLM solution,” said Peasland.

To design a car, Infiniti Red Bull engineers start with NX CAD, which aids in drafting and simulating the components, assemblies, and motions. Once each part is ready for production, computer numerical control (CNC) machines are then responsible for the majority of part manufacturing, and rely on NX CAM to convey the precise dimensions of each piece being made.

Holding this process together is Teamcenter, which tracks all PLM data and shares it with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that manages materials and tooling for every component that is manufactured.

Five years ago the team would have relied on hard drawings that would be passed from engineers to mechanics to detail how each part is assembled within the car. Today with the help of Teamcenter the 3D geometry can be used just as easily in the mechanic’s garage as it can in the design lab.

Races are generally run over three days. Infiniti Red Bull prepares by running simulations of the particular track to determine everything from a car’s bodywork to its mechanical settings. Ultimately, however, practice runs are necessary to make the final call.  

“When we get to the racetrack our product has a lot of options,” said Cadieux. “In any given race there are literally hundreds of setup decisions to make on the car.” So the team must have several options for each component, and team mechanics must have the details they need to effectively install each of them in case the track calls for different components than the simulations predicted.

Once a car qualifies on the track, the team cannot change the vehicle’s configuration, having committed to everything from a wing flap design to the car’s suspension settings. This means that teams armed with simulation data in advance can more easily choose the best component for a particular track.

While Infiniti Red Bull does utilize high-end HP servers and Oracle databases for CAD and Teamcenter, the more complex computational fluid dynamics simulations are performed in the company’s private cloud, which can dedicate thousands of cores to these calculations.

Cadieux believes that one change in F1 that is likely to impact its long-term trajectory is the legal basis and technical regulations for motorsport. These are pushing teams to boost the quality of their engineering and simulations while using fewer engineers and less money. But to do so, Cadieux concluded that PLM software will have to continue advancing in order to supplement this shrinking human workforce, and so far it seems to be doing just that.

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