Manufacturing at Toyota Motorsport
The intense development cycles in motorsport and a number of other industries, mean that it's critical for manufacturing to deliver at the same pace whether for the production of prototype components for testing, for the fabrication of race car parts or even for the construction of a brand new composite monocoque chassis.
With one of the largest concentrations of rapid manufacturing machines under one roof within Europe, including ten stereolithography (STL) machines and two laser sinter machines, Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG) is a centre of excellence for this cutting-edge technology. Honed in the high pressure world of top level motorsport where as many as 2,000 unique parts a month can be produced from a variety of materials, these capabilities are being applied to the TOYOTA Racing project as well as client requirement in a range of industries.
A previous feature explored the capabilities on hand at TMG to design aerodynamic (hyperlink) components. These are "tested" initially in the virtual world using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), but in order to test the parts with most potential in one of the wind tunnels, it's necessary to make actual physical models of each design using a range of rapid manufacturing techniques.
Typically, though not always, wind tunnel components will be made as resin models using one of the STL machines. This fast and flexible 3D printing technique involves a vat of liquid resin that is activated and solidified very accurately by a laser. Models of over 50cm x 50cm x 60cm can be built up one layer at a time with layer depth as small as 0.025mm. Within a few hours this process can produce complex three-dimensional parts that would otherwise take days or weeks. For smaller parts time savings are even greater as multiple items can be produced simultaneously in the same vat.
Laser sintering uses a similar 3D approach but here the laser is used to fuse aluminium alloy, carbon fibre or glass powder in order to build the layered models that can be used for actual race car components, for moulds to make other parts or for use in the wind tunnel. In addition to the time savings of these 3D approaches, the technique enables the design and production of complex parts that would be difficult or impossible to cast or machine and would therefore need to be assembled from smaller components.
When finely detailed metal parts are needed the only solution is TMG's milling and CNC department. Here over 30 advanced and fully automated machines with the potential to run round the clock, seven days a week, can mill and turn on up to five axes, producing parts from as large as 30,000kg down to small complex, hydraulic components to an accuracy of four microns. With the TS030 HYBRID cars at Le Mans reaching 300kph down the Mulsanne Straight such parts are often performance or safety critical which means that quality control is key. The CNC team has eight three-dimensional measurement machines that can examine each item down to a single micron, leaving nothing to chance whether on a piece of medical equipment, an aircraft component or a race car part.
Another key discipline is that of fabrication. Here, working with exotic materials including titanium and Inconel, TMG engineers create bespoke parts, cutting, bending and working piping, tubing and sheeting to form everything from exhausts and roll cages to complex shapes for heat shields or bodywork components.
TMG's rapid manufacturing capability is based on a responsive and flexible approach. This was demonstrated to the full in April 2012 when, just weeks before the first race for the new TOYOTA HYBRID team, one of the drivers had an accident in testing that damaged the only chassis. With two months until one of the biggest races of the motorsport year at Le Mans, TMG set about manufacturing a new composite chassis to be tested extensively before the big race in June.
Working with materials including Kevlar, glass, carbon or hybrid fibres, the TMG composite team can prepare anything from small parts up to items the size of a car. Specific requirements in terms of weight and strength in a given dimension determine the choice of materials as well as detailed characteristics such as fibre length.
For the new TS030 HYBRID monocoque chassis, TMG's production department worked wonders to deliver two new chassis in time for the Le Mans test day. Following damage to the first monocoque, precious little time remained to create the two necessary to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
But intense work reduced the production time of these complex items to under seven weeks; a remarkable demonstration of TMG's high-performance manufacturing capabilities.
To meet the extreme demands of prototype development, TMG has refined the carbon production process for high structural integrity and tight tolerances and this technology is now available to enhance projects of all sizes from all sectors. Whether using TMG's advance pre-impregnated process or a wet carbon fibre lay-up, parts are prepared in a filtered, clear-air, positive-pressure lay-up area that eliminates the risk of contamination before being baked in one of two autoclave ovens. The larger one has a curing table of 4.2m x 1.6m while the smaller is 2m x 80cm, providing both the space and the throughput to deliver high quality composite elements within tight deadlines.
Whether on the track at Le Mans or behind the scenes back in the factory, TMG has the capability to run 24/7 to keep pace with the fastest development environment.