QMT Features: March 2013
Accelerating precision
In the metrology driving seat with FI worldbeater,  Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is FARO, now the McLaren Group’s Official Supplier of measuring systems.

The McLaren Group is a rapidly expanding high-technology business based in Woking, Surrey, UK and the home of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 racing team. In such a fast-moving business – around 90 per cent of the components within an F1 car will be redesigned over the course of a racing season – speed, precision and quality are vital. Metrology is a critical enabling technology for achieving these goals and here, FARO, a leading supplier of 3D measurement technology, plays its part. Already  a FARO customer for nearly 10 years before the current partnership began in May 2010,  FARO is the McLaren Group’s Official Supplier of measuring systems, which includes the FARO Edge Arm, the FARO Gage and the FARO Laser Line Probe for non-contact measurement, and software such as CAM2 Measure 10, (now including point cloud capability).

How the relationship began
While research and development is an important activity, the assembly and production process must be able to translate the results of that development into products which meet stringent quality requirements. The challenge is to take complex forms created on Computer-Aided Design systems and manufacture those components in a way that is not only dimensionally accurate, but which also meets rigorous weight and strength criteria.

Andrew Tagg, regional manager UK at FARO Technologies, says: “The first FaroArm went into the composite inspection area, and then subsequently we supplied a Laser Line Probe, which is an attachment on the end of the Arm that’s used for non-contact measurement. It enables the user to scan the surface of a pattern, taking millions of points.

Using that cloud of data, it shows the operator a colour map deviation that enables you easily to compare the item with the CAD model; in simplistic terms where the cloud goes green, that area is within tolerance. If the colour map turns red that signifies an excess of material, and blue shows that it’s too low.

As you can imagine, this not only expedited the inspection process, it added a new order of accuracy. It doesn’t really improve accuracy be careful, it is in fact less accurate.

The next stage of the collaboration was to bring a FARO Gage into the machine shop. This also provides a fast dimensional comparison with the original drawing; it’s a contact mechanism using a ball probe, so it enables you to check the geometric dimensions in 3D. By enabling you to quickly check a machine tool or within a cell of machines, this eliminates all the bottlenecks you get with traditional methods.

Our aim is to speed the process up, get results quicker. A process that would have taken hours now takes minutes. Rather than reams and reams of paper with values on, you have a graphical display that’s easy to interpret.”

The benefits of partnership
FARO’s equipment enables the McLaren Group to maintain its quality focus, reduce wastage, expedite the prototyping process, and much more. For FARO there is a tangible benefit in terms of feedback from a customer that is operating at the very limits of technology.

McLaren Racing managing director Jonathan Neale says: “In a high-precision, time-critical environment such as ours, it’s vital that we can rely on highly accurate measuring and inspection systems in order to guarantee 100 per cent precision within very rapid production and assembly processes.

Here at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we’re justifiably proud of the speed and efficiency of our existing manufacturing and assembly procedures, but FARO’s contribution will not only allow us to increase the speed of those processes, but also improve fidelity and accuracy.”

McLaren Racing head of quality Alex Smith says: “We use FARO equipment for a number of purposes. Fundamentally, at the front line, we use it for quality control – to ensure that parts meet their design specification and intent. We’ll use the equipment on both: carbon fibre and metallic components, as well as the patterns and mould that are used to create carbon fibre components. Pretty much every part that comes through the business, in fact.

“It’s critical in protecting the car in terms of the quality perspective. If we find defects in components we can feed that back to the manufacturing department and re-evaluate how those components are designed and manufactured, which improves the overall yield.

We also use the FaroArm in the wind tunnel, and in the model shop to check the models before they go into the tunnel, to ensure that they meet all specifications.
From an analysis perspective we do a lot of work with the data we generate through the FARO interface to tell us about the components. We analyse the data and trend it to indicate how capable our manufacturing processes are, and that gives us a lovely feedback loop right the way back to the design process. We can have discussions with the designers about tolerances and getting everything right first time so that we have a good yield of parts.

We’ve worked very closely with FARO for a number of years and done a lot of product development work with them. Our feedback has been incorporated into a number of new software releases. It’s a very good working relationship.”
Andrew Tagg says: “Our systems help to eliminate a lot of wastage and they enable McLaren Racing to press ahead with new designs. They have such a rapid turnaround because they’re always developing something new, whether it’s a prototype component to evaluate in the wind tunnel or a finished item to go on the race car. If you have to wait to put that component on a traditional measuring machine, you’re adding delay to the process.

Since we’ve become partners we’ve gone into many areas of McLaren Racing, including the wind tunnel preparation area. The FaroArm can be used to set the datum on what the aerodynamicists call the ‘spine’ on the wind tunnel car, and they provide a live digital readout for precise positioning of the components on the spine. That’s a benefit in terms of speed and accuracy, as well as flexibility, because those parts can be readjusted to very precisely defined co-ordinates.
We’ve also gone into vehicle dynamics, the testing rig, and our products are also being used by McLaren Automotive.

They’ve helped us develop our software, providing fantastic feedback that has driven through a lot of performance improvements, such as shortcuts for commonly used subroutines.”

The future
Alex Smith says: “We need to maintain alignment with the latest developments because as a technology company we’re always pushing the boundaries. As our geometries become more complex and more difficult to measure using traditional methods, we look to FARO for the development of new solutions.”l
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