During a season an F1 car can be subject to as many as 30,000 design changes. This episode explores how the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team uses Hexagon measurement technologies in the pursuit of continual vehicle enhancement and quality.
JG: Welcome to HxGN Radio. I’m your host, Jack Guest, and today we’re excited to kick off our podcast series, going behind the scenes at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing to learn more about the innovation partnership between Hexagon and the team here in Milton Keynes. Today I’m joined by Luke Evans, head of external inspection. During the season, the car we see on track can be subject to as many as 30,000 design changes, and today we’ll be learning more about how Luke and the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team use Hexagon measurement technologies to support them in the pursuit of continual vehicle enhancement and quality. Thanks for joining us today, Luke.
LE: You’re welcome.
JG: So, Luke, everyone wants to work in Formula One. Could you tell us how you became the head of external inspection?
LE: Well, it was very much a dream from school. I was very interested in motorsport, and Formula One was the pinnacle—still is the pinnacle. So, I enrolled on a few college courses, and then that evolved into university, where I did an engineering degree, a motorsport engineering degree. From there, from the links that I made at university and the networking I was able to do, I managed to secure a quality engineering role at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. From there, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing has invested a lot of time in my training, my development, and a couple of years ago, I secured the role of head of external inspection.
JG: Excellent. So just to follow that up, then, could you give us an insight into what a normal day would look like for head of external inspection?
LE: Within external inspection, we inspect everything that we purchase as a team. We have the technical ability to manufacture a lot of what we design, but we don’t necessarily always have the capacity to manufacture everything that we design, so there’s a certain percentage of the car, the parts, that we have to subcontract. Those parts, and sometimes processes, that are supplied are then inspected through external inspection. So, it’s the management of that inspection process.
JG: So, it sounds like you’ve got a very interesting career path, and it’s great, we have the opportunity for you to share your expertise and inform our listeners more about how you and your team use Hexagon solutions. Could you tell us which Hexagon products are regularly being used by the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team?
LE: So, we have Absolute Arms, both with integral and external scanners; GLOBAL CMMs; and Leica Absolute Trackers, utilising both T-Probes and tracker scanning.
JG: Excellent. So, which specific tasks are these used for?
LE: The application of the Hexagon products we use is, first, they’re driven by accuracy. The equipment must be suitable to the tolerance being measured. Time is our secondary controlling factor, followed closely by scale and location of the component. Typically, we find GLOBAL CMMs being used for high-precision machine components. Absolute Arms are used for laminated composite components, freeform, 3D-printed parts, and machined aerodynamic surfaces, while the Leica Absolute Trackers are perfect for patterns and large assemblies.
JG: So, just out of interest, how many parts would you measure per season or per year?
LE: Well, we measure many components multiple times during their manufacture. So, we have post-rough machining, first-offs, as part of the setup in a jig, and then there’s final assemblies. This equates to roughly 200,000 inspection transactions per year, which in volume terms equates to roughly 900,000 parts.
JG: Okay, so that’s a serious amount of parts to get through in relatively short spaces. Are the products used across various tasks? Are any tools dedicated to a single task?
LE: We don’t have any tools that are limited to a single task. We find the tools that we use are extremely versatile and appropriate to a wide variety of inspection operations.
JG: Okay, so just following on from that, are the products often moved around and used in different places or different work areas within a location, or completely different locations?
LE: Well, for obvious reasons, the CMMs are pretty static. The Leica Absolute Trackers get the most mileage. We have a set that travel around the world to each race. Our Absolute Arms are all affixed to movable workstations, allowing them to be easily transported around the business to where they are needed. They’re found being used everywhere, from the machine shop for an on-machine inspection to composite laminating for the positioning of inserts.
JG: Who uses each of the products? Is there a key user that does most of the work?
LE: Well, typically, inspection staff. However, we have technicians in our model shop who are trained to use Absolute Arms. The race team is also trained to use the travelling Absolute Tracker.
JG: How easy is it for someone else to take over if the key contacts are unavailable?
LE: Well, we’re very much a 24/7 business. We need all of our inspectors to be trained. Don’t get me wrong—we have specialists and key users. But on the most part, it’s important for our inspectors to be diverse and be able to use all the equipment we have so at any point during the day, during the shift, there’s always someone that’s able to use the Hexagon products.
JG: Excellent. So, what training did the users receive, and how long did this take, and do they receive regular re-training?
LE: To use the GLOBAL CMMs, our inspectors receive two one-week training courses. Absolute Arms and Leica Absolute Trackers are roughly a week training course. And we then find that exposure to parts and buddy training on site is more than enough training. We rarely have to re-train, as Hexagon products are used so frequently. Staff remain fresh and familiar with the equipment that is inherently easy to use.
JG: Excellent. So, at what points in the racing season are the tools most important, would you say?
LE: Put simply, there isn’t a point in the season when we’re not using Hexagon products. Their importance is year-round, and they are critical to what we do.
JG: Okay, so there’s not a particular point in the season where they’re used the most; they’re used consistently around the season.
LE: Our busy period is between January and the first race in Australia, when we inspect close to 300,000 parts, but these tools really are being used year-round.
JG: Okay. How important are these tools for the various tasks in which they’re applied?
LE: Well, in one word, they’re critical. We inspect safety-related components using Hexagon tools. The speeds and forces involved in that form mean that lives could be at risk if something goes wrong.
JG: How much of a difference, would you say, the tools make in terms of saving time, reducing waste, and ultimately yielding better parts?
LE: In this example, the Leica Absolute Trackers yielded huge increases in efficiency. We no longer have to spend time designing and manufacturing large, expensive jigs and fixtures. The jigs typically only had a single purpose: one car-setup variable that could be measured per check. The Absolute Trackers don’t have this limitation. This one piece of equipment can be used to check the entire car setup and legality. The Leica Absolute Trackers have proven through this diversity to be a valuable investigation and problem-solving tool.
JG: Excellent. So how important, would you say, is metrology in the process of building a new car from scratch every season?
LE: As we’ve already discussed, metrology’s critical to safety, but it’s also essential to performance too. Components need to be accurate to our design and simulations to ensure that the improvements we expect from season to season, race to race, are realised on the track.
JG: Just following on from that, regulations, obviously, change each season, so how important is metrology in regard to these regulations and new regulations?
LE: Well, regulations provide boundaries to design to, and the closer we can design and manufacture to these limits usually means more performance. But go past these constraints and it could mean a disqualification. This is where the importance of metrology really shines. Metrology is critical. We need metrology to gain assurance that our cars are on the absolute limit, as design intend, yet not illegal.
JG: Regulations don’t just affect the car; they affect the drivers as well. So, are they aware of the importance of metrology, and how involved are they in the development of a new car?
LE: Yes, definitely. Drivers are consistently providing feedback into how the car feels, how developments change handling characteristics. Testing time is limited so it’s, therefore, important that we understand, measure, and record what changes can be made in the fastest time possible.
JG: Okay, so, when the car finally makes it onto the track, can you remotely help the team if they need support at the track side?
LE: Yes. So, using Citrix VDI, we can remote connect and use Hexagon tools as if we are there trackside. Time is precious for the race team, and the number of trackside staff is governed by the FIA, so it’s essential that we’re able to give this type of remote support.
JG: Okay. And from time to time, if internal support can’t find an answer for you, how good is the response rate of the Hexagon team if specialist support is needed?
LE: Well, we’ve got excellent communication links with Hexagon and find it effortless to contact the correct person to either solve problems or get answers. If on the off chance something more serious is wrong, then engineers can be on site within 24 hours.
JG: Excellent. How important is it that Aston Martin Red Bull Racing are amongst the first to use Hexagon’s latest technology before its official launch?
LE: Formula One’s very much a development race. The faster we can realise improvements at the factory, the sooner we can reduce our lap times. Hexagon products already save Aston Martin Red Bull Racing vast amounts of time in the development process. Put simply, new, improved technology just can’t come fast enough.
JG: Great overviews, there, Luke. Thank you for giving us an insight into how Hexagon solutions are used in the development of new cars for the team at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. For more information on Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, head to hexagonmi.com, or to learn more about Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, head to redbullracing.com. Thanks for tuning in to HxGN Radio. For more episodes, head to hxgnspotlight.com.