QMT Features: March 2007
Honda in the driving seat
The Honda Racing F1 Team goes all out for the number 1 spot in the world of Formula One - with measurement and inspection technology part of the driving force. By Brendan Coyne.

Honda  the world's biggest engine manufacturer – is a company full of expectation. As the engine supplier that powered three drivers to five F1 Drivers’ Championships, and McLaren and Williams to a total of six F1 Constructors’ Championships, it’s eager to regain No 1 status in the ultimate proving ground for high tech products.

Number 2, or just up there with the other F1 leaders won’t do.

Since acquiring a full 100 per cent shareholding in the BAR Honda team in October 2005, Honda – in the guise of the Honda Racing F1 Team – is, for the first time in over 40 years a fully fledged F1 constructor.

Not since 1965 – the year Richie Ginther scored the company’s first Grand Prix win in Mexico – has the company taken on the dual responsibility of chassis and engine design and manufacture.

Last year Jenson Button delivered his and the new team’s first Grand Prix win. This year, the Honda Racing F1 Team is aiming for race drivers Button and Rubens Barrichello to be up there challenging for wins and championship honours.

But that is not their only goal. The way to achieving further success, according to the team’s Chief Executive Officer Nick Fry, is consistency. Maintaining competitiveness – through consistency – is the only way to win races and championships.

Fry says the team is now on a par with the front running teams in terms of resources. New infrastructure includes a £30 million full scale wind tunnel at the team’s Brackley headquarters (staffed by four times the number of aerodynamicists it had when the team was formed). The team has also invested heavily in additional machining facilities and measurement and inspection technology – because the quest for wins is preceded by the quest for quality.

Wind tunnels, CAD technology, CFD software and the like count for nothing if quality-assured consistency cannot be delivered.

The team management believe their engine is good enough to challenge for wins in 2007 but engine project leader Shuhei Sakurahara knows quality is the key. The quality of parts was never a problem with the less-stressed V10 engines but the uneven quality of parts affected by crankshaft area vibrations was an issue for the 2006-introduced V8 units. As a result Honda stepped up quality control.

Most of the F1 engine design and development work is carried out at Honda’s R&D Centre in Tochigi in Japan but the engines are partly built at Honda Racing Development in Bracknell. Along with the chassis research, design and manufacture carried out at Brackley, this requires a degree of component sourcing from external suppliers worldwide.

Will Goff, Quality Assurance Manager at the Honda Racing F1 Team is the man in charge of ensuring the integrity and accuracy of all these components along with those manufactured in-house. The primary inspection and measurement hardware, plus a common software platform, used for verification are supplied by Hexagon Metrology.

Hexagon has also retrofitted a Honda Racing Development Mitutoyo CNC at Bracknell with PC-DMIS Cad++, to further enhance commonality. This ensures compatibility between the two sites with the opportunity to share program resources.

Components that undergo inspection range from small items such as specially designed bolts to complex components such as hydraulic manifolds and suspension components. Even the smallest, seemingly unimportant parts have to be quality-assured if Honda is to build a consistent race winning car.

Will Goff outlines some of the challenges facing the team in meeting these demanding ‘accuracy at all costs’ expectations. “We have an intranet system with our quality system on, which defines procedures and work instructions throughout our business. Our business system is SAP, so when the goods come in, we inspect them, and record relevant data direct to SAP on a real-time basis.

“We know when they came in, who inspected them and can trace them back to the raw material source. All the car parts are laser marked, with a minimum of part number and batch number. For the more significant components, including safety critical parts, we also assign a life number; a unique individual serial number. This is marked onto the part along with a 2D data matrix code which describes the unique part, enabling scanning and direct data entry against that part.

“Subsequently, when a ‘lifed part’ is run in a test or used in a race, the kilometres are logged against that individual part. When a certain limit is reached, the part is either serviced or replaced. In addition, other very detailed elements relevant to life are recorded such as circuit and car set-up configuration, enabling performance evaluation and improvement to a very specific level.

Honda operates a TQM system. Its philosophy is to push quality back to the supplier, expecting the products to arrive defect free to Honda’s defined level. But this won’t ever stop the company from checking.

“With the tolerances and the complexity of some of the components, we’ve found that some suppliers are not always able to guarantee meeting our specs – so we rely heavily on inspection. For the more critical components, particularly safety critical components, we carry out 100% inspection,” says Goff.

“We have two final inspection areas: the main inspection area looks after externally supplied components and internally produced composite components. We also have our own manufacturing final inspection area for our machine shop-produced components.”

The Honda Racing F1 Team operates a three-shift 24 hour operation five days a week in both areas, with weekend working when necessary. “We are pushing through about 25,000 components per month in these two areas, from inspection of bolts to highly complex suspension components – a massive variety.

“All of our CMMs are Hexagon machines. We’ve got a small Mistral CMM, a Scirocco and a Global (mid range CMM). Out of the 25,000 pieces per month, just over 60 percent are going through the CMMs. On the composite side, we use the CMMs to check the patterns that produce the moulds for the components as well as verifying the final component. To scan patterns and surfaces, we use a Global CMM with a Renishaw SP25 scanning probe.

“For design and modelling, we’re currently using Unigraphics, but moving to CATIA. We’ve got a Direct CAD Interface with PC-DMIS, so we’re able to pull up a CAD model and programme the CMMs directly from it. This can help to reduce lead times. For example, when we know a complex component is coming in from an outside supplier, we do off-line programming upfront using PC-DMIS, so that when the component lands, we're ready to pick it up on-the-fly and load it straight onto the CMM for immediate measurement.”

The company has also recently taken delivery of a Global F CMM with a measuring envelope of 3.3m x 2m x 1.5m. “This has given us extra capacity on normal components and also the capability to check the complete car chassis and large floor patterns,” Goff explains. “These previously had to go to the Honda car manufacturing plant in Swindon to be measured. So, we have now brought the entire measurement facility in house.”

Operations Director, Professor Gary Savage, adds: “Last season Honda recorded zero stoppages due to reliability of the chassis. The TQM system clearly contributed significantly to this. Our aim now is to maintain this record as we move forward – and the system and processes will develop in order to facilitate this aim.” l

email: enquiry@hexmet.co.uk


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