F1 car builder does the unthinkable: Changes CAD midseason

Dec. 13, 2001
Think you operate in a competitive environment? The Formula One racing team of West McLaren Mercedes would say yours doesn't hold a candle to what they face.
Scott Bain and others on the McLaren design team evaluated Catia in the Spring of 1999 and decided to have it up and running to design the MP4/15 car by September of that year. They met their goal of having all 50 users trained and proficient in 14 weeks.
At speeds near 200 mph, aerodynamic studies become crucial in trimming drag to a minimum. F1 cars get tweaked from race to race to compensate for different track conditions and other factors. Doing so calls for modeling new parts, simulating their performance, and generating toolpaths for their production.
A technician inspects the exhaust tubes for a new engine. The integrated capability of Catia lets the McLaren team complete design through manufacturing cycles faster than previously possible.

Competitive pressures recently forced the team to switch CAD systems on a live project, a move many engineers would find abhorrent.

"The switch was necessary," says Martin Whitmarsh, managing director of McLaren International, "because the current CAD system was becoming outdated. Our racers went with Catia because the latest version provides a range of technology the team needs, such as features for designing the transmission, suspension, chassis, and aerodynamic surfaces. Its ease of use lets McLaren engineers design and make changes quickly."

"Everyone seemed to quickly pick up Catia and found it easier to use than their previous system, and it was more reliable," says Scott Bain, an engineer on the team.

Its data integrity requires that users model properly and not cut corners to get away with the bare minimum in an effort to save time. Modeling properly at the outset is the right way to go and, in the long term, it cut design time," says Whitmarsh. F1 race teams have six months to design a new car that typically contains more than 3,500 parts. The two weeks between races allow for additional changes. Six months into the new CAD system the McLaren team also implemented a new data management system.

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