Model Cars For Grown-Ups. Model Making in Formula One.

ADM from photopolymer resin

It has been a while since our last edition of our series of ‘The inner workings of a Fomula One Team’ articles, but there is actually some research that goes in to it; we want to be thorough and correct! Again the information is based on interviews with people working in the pertinent field.

This time we are taking a look inside the Model Making department and how (in general terms) they work . As you may know models in F1 are used for wind tunnel testing and experimental aerodynamic testing,  validation and data generation through telemetry. As opposed to the testing using CFD, they actually have to build a physical model of the car with all the intricacies that exist on F1 cars these days. Some teams use ‘smaller’ models, i.e. 40% scale of the full sized car, but they will always strive to test on at least a 60% scale model for more accurate results. Even though Teams are having to rely more on CFD than wind tunnel testing going forward due to regulations, wind tunnel testing remains an integral part of a Team’s process of achieving their goals on the track. A typical ‘model shop’ will consist of manufacturing and assembly groups. They manufacture the parts in many different materials from aluminum, carbon fibre, steel to the various metals and resins used in ADM, Advanced Digital Manufacturing or ‘Rapid Prototyping’. In the olden days they actually used wood and would have to rely on chisels and gouges to achieve the right shapes and angles. These days they use CNC machines and 3D printers using resins and metals cured with lasers, all fed instructions based on the designers’ specifications in the CAD generated drawings. Times have changed, haven’t they?

Essentially the designers will give the group the CAD from which they manufacture the parts for the model. Considering the can be up to 1 000 design changes per week during the season, the pressure from the design department is tremendous. Once the parts have all been made, the model is assembled and a test session is run. The wind tunnel is operated by wind tunnel technicians, which typically have and electronics and instrumentation background. The test is run by an Aerodynamicist who works with the model makers to make changes to the parts and to make sure the data is collected for analysis. This data is in turn interpreted by the Aero and design departments to make a case for implementing the design change on the full sized car. And around it goes again.

This department has traditionally been a great entry-point in to motorsport for apprentices, and still is. However, due to the lack of apprentices, as seen in the news lately (e.g. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lack-apprenticeships-holding-back-uk-3187201), candidates are sourced from other functions.  I actually spoke to a candidate the other day that started out as a cabinet maker before ending up making models, which does make sense really. Obviously CNC machinists/programmers, composite pattern makers and anyone with experience of 3D printing technologies have a natural fit in the manufacturing process. A degree from university is not necessary, but many times apprentices are brought in from Motorsport programmes from colleges, so it is competitive despite the diminishing apprentice pool. In terms of transferable skills you would be able to move to any function as a CNC programmer/machinist or composite pattern maker, depending on your function. However, you are also able to move in to operations management, e.g. production manager, if this is the direction you want to go. Key in this as many other areas is to keep yourself up to date and trained in new technologies as they move very fast.

The rapid prototyping element of model making is becoming increasingly common in all types of industries and even in manufacturing processes and thus it is a burgeoning market for good model makers. Hence it is certainly a skill set worth investing in for a life long career.

Below I have picked out a couple of videos to explain the technology and also give a glimpse in to the wind tunnel process.

As usual, keep an eye out for opportunities for model makers, CNC Machinists, Pattern Makers, etc on our website: http://www.resourcesinmotorsport.co.uk. It is also worth pointing out that this week, 3/3 – 7/3-14, is National Apprenticeship Week, to find out more follow: http://www.apprenticeships.org.uk/awards/apprenticeship-week-2014.aspx

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