A West Midland company has helped Formula One team Vodafone McLaren Mercedes get back into race-winning form.
Machine tools supplied by Worcester-based Yamazaki Mazak have played a key part in improving the aerodynamics of the team’s cars, culminating in Lewis Hamilton’s win in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Mazak, which has been a McLaren supplier for 11 years, supplied the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking with three machines, including a Vortex high speed vertical machining centre.
After Hamilton’s World Championship-winning season in 2008, McLaren focused on improving the aerodynamics of its F1 cars and identified the need to improve the productivity of the mould tools used to create crucial body components.
“This was instigated by our design department developing aluminium wing spars, which are subsequently clad in carbon fibre skins, for the race cars,” said Michael Key, head of manufacturing at McLaren Racing.
“The role of our business is to win races, and to achieve this we need the right parts on the car at the right time. Therefore, any new machine tool had to be able to reduce lead times of those components getting to the track.”
Working closely with Mazak, McLaren identified the Vortex machine as having the capability to machine aluminium billets in excess of 1.5m in length, and very quickly achieve a finished component.
Senior production engineer, Ian Greenfield said: “With our previous non-Mazak equipment the cycle times were so much longer, the roughing operation on the Vortex is so quick in comparison.
“We initially expected to cut cycle times by 50 per cent, but what we actually achieved was a 75 per cent reduction, which is way beyond what we had hoped for. Quite simply, without the Vortex we could not have delivered many of the parts to the tight schedules that we were faced with.”
McLaren has calculated that these new mould tools would have taken six hours to rough out on the old machines. This was cut to 40 minutes on the Vortex.
“We have pulled back from that cycle time now,” says Mr Greenfield, “as we had to push the machine initially to achieve deadlines.
“I took the attitude that if we started with a 1mm depth of cut we would never improve on that, but if we started with a 4 mm depth of cut we could always back off if we needed to.”