mclaren tech center.automotiveIT

Ultra-fast F1 race cars need technical updates to be applied at record speeds as well (Photo: McLaren)

The PLM power relationships in motorsports’ top tier have been set in stone for many years. Dassault Systèmes, with its Catia design program, is the undisputed heavyweight.

But rival Siemens PLM is fighting back.The German group's PLM software has been taking some business awa from Dassault in the auto industry as a whole and it is moving briskly ahead in Formula 1 racing ”“ namely with Team Red Bull Racing.

In 2011, Team Red Bull and its main driver, Sebastian Vettel, not only again captured the world driver championship. It was also able to bring home the Constructors’ Championship. It was the second time in a row and Siemens' NX and Teamcenter PLM systems provided the team’s digital backbone.

Still, 80 percent of all Formula 1 teams today use Dassault's Catia software to give their race cars an aerodynamic design or to virtually develop suspensions, hydraulic systems or vehicle electrical or electronic components.

Dassault Systèmes has one of the largest engineering teams supporting Formula 1.

In the battle for speed, racing experts say the CAD software that teams use doesn’t matter, nor does the platform handling the tons of digital information that pile up every racing season.

Massive speed

But the fact remains that the processes all require massive speed, from the first sketch of a vehicle component, through its manufacture, all the way to its success in real life. No one can afford long waits or stoppages.

All the development takes place with an eye on the tightly synchronized season calendar. A total of 19 races must be completed over nine months ”“ on racetracks spread out all over the world. Constant changes in the rules repeatedly pose new challenges for the engineers.

mclaren f1.automotiveIT

Ultra-fast F1 race cars need technical updates to be applied at record speeds as well (Photo: McLaren)

The McLaren Technology Centre in Woking southeast of London is a good example of the challenges faced by Formula 1 engineers. McLaren Mercedes engineers use Dassault software. They even turn to the system to develop fiber composite materials.

At the Technology Centre, tens of thousands of innovative ideas and digital designs emerge every year. There are more than 40,000 changes to the two Formula 1 race cars that McLaren Mercedes uses. That's the mathematical equivalent of an upgrade every 20 minutes.

"In the time that ”˜normal’ OEMs take to design a single component, designers, engineers and mechanics create a complete vehicle in Formula 1," said Rashpal Mundi, who supports Formula 1 teams in the UK for Dassault Systèmes.

1.6 Gb of information

The origination, development and testing of the numerous designs requires an efficient and reliable software environment. In this way, the large quantity of data and technical simulation can be integrated and managed securely.

This was the case when ex-world champion Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line in second place at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in South Korea in mid-October. Countless sensors and control units in his single-seater sent about 1.6 gigabytes of telemetric information back to England.

There 50 McLaren engineers monitored the racing action remotely and later analyzed the performance of nearly all the 11,500 installed parts down to the smallest detail. This is crucial to safeguard and advance the vehicle’s development.

McLaren stores all its 3D and 2D geometries in Dassault’s Enovia. Now still in Version 5, but the decision has been made to convert to the current program releases.

"Software solutions from Enovia have long been a component of McLaren’s DNA," Jonathan Neale, managing director of McLaren Racing told automotiveIT.

“We exploit every opportunity to shorten our times to market introduction, whether through intelligent design, improved processes or ”“ as in the PLM V6 ”“through the introduction of a well-thought-out product lifecycle management system for the optimization of the efficiency of the entire production cycle.”

The rollout is expected to take until mid-2012. By then, the number of CAD seats with Dassault software in Woking will rise from 125 today to 200. Development is already running on V6 tools on a test basis for the next racing season.

The results can be assessed on March 18, 2012, at the Australian Grand Prix when Formula 1 rolls into its new season.

And the duel between Dassault Systèmes and Siemens PLM goes another round.

By Ralf Bretting