Winning with 3D

Written by: Tom Shelley | Published:

When one of the country’s most successful motorsport teams switched to 3D, it accelerated design choice to new levels



Triple Eight Race Engineering has so many trophies around its premises near Banbury that it has trouble finding horizontal surfaces on which to put them all.
The company has 40 members and has only been going since 1996. Yet while designing, building and racing Super Touring Vectras on behalf of Vauxhall for the British Touring Car Championship, it has amassed 248 podiums and 86 race wins from a total of 235 race starts.
Nonetheless, the business faced quite a challenge when the regulations changed for the 2007 season, requiring a complete redesign of the cars – a challenge that was greatly facilitated by moving from Autodesk Mechanical Desktop to Autodesk Inventor. Inventor is also used in another side of the business, designing body and engine modifications for 250 Vauxhall Vectra Sris going through the factory, to give racing-type performance for a select number of road car owners.
“Everything we had done before had to go in the bin and we only had five months to go from kicking off the design process to turning a wheel for the first time,” says technical director Kevin Berry. “Form fit and function had to be right first time. We only have eight design engineers, all of whom have other jobs as well.”
Although some parts of the car have to be from a standard road car - body shell, engine block and head and suspension uprights and hubs – the regulations allow a great deal of modification of parts.
“The regulations just set a new set of challenges to make a race car part out of a road car part,” he adds.
For example, a brake assembly where, under the regulations, brackets could be added, had also been used to stiffen it. All the teams do such things, he says, pushing the regulations to the maximum wherever possible, so that limitations imposed to try to keep costs down often result in them actually going up.
Berry spoke very favourably of the 3D package. “Inventor does everything we need. Once we had it, we were designing products in a few hours. These days, we have virtually eliminated stupid packaging errors. Everybody is working on a complete model of their area.”
A virtual prototype of the whole car would be very large, but engineers work with virtual prototypes of sections of the car. Inventor is also employed for surfacing the front bodywork of the modified cars, which previously required the use of Rhino.
Even though the business is small, management of the inevitably simultaneous design process is crucial. Triple Eight has taken on Productstream – the product data management (PDM) element that allows greater control of design data – which means only one person can take out a part and modify it (though everyone can access and look at it) and the company is implementing the Web Client capability to assist this.
The chassis and body shell design data come from Vauxhall-Opel in Unigraphics format, presently converted using TransMagic; with Inventor 2008, this will be converted using Inventor itself. Having translated the body and chassis, one of the first jobs is to design the roll cage to protect the driver. Triple Eight uses the FEA in Inventor Professional, in addition to some extra ‘external’ FEA work. This leads to design of the individual elements and their manufacture. Nowadays, says Berry, a tube comes bent and trimmed, and ready to drop into the assembly. The frame and car take 10 days to build and then it’s straight down to Spain for testing, mainly because it is usually dry there, even in winter, giving similar road conditions to those normally encountered on tracks in the UK during the summer. This, however, leads to a need to access CAD data remotely, which the team is able to accomplish through a satellite link.

Pointers

* The business has built its operations round Autodesk Inventor and Productstream. The increased capabilities of these products are doing away with the need to use other products

* Like all touring and rally cars, despite regulations requiring the re-use of standard body shells, engine blocks and heads and other parts, these are all modified and the cars are essentially designed from the bottom up, in very short timescales by automotive standards


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