In F1, the race begins long before the cars even reach the starting grid. “The first race is at the factory – it’s a race backstage that nobody sees,” says Luca Mazzocco, head of partner management at Lotus F1 Team. And it quite literally is a race – a race against the clock as much as against competing teams.
In this extremely fast paced environment engineers often have to design a part to actually having it in the car in the space of weeks, sometimes even days.
“Even when the trucks or containers leave to go to a certain race, the R&D machine continues to produce innovation,” explains Mazzocco. “For this reason, it’s not unusual for the last person who travels to a race event to carry extra luggage.
For instance, I arrived in Singapore with ten large suitcases on my own. And this is very normal because the innovation machine constantly produces new solutions.”
With such short lead times and to remain competitive, Lotus F1 Team’s engineers need a seamless process for design into production. Tools to aid in this process are often provided through technical partnerships who support the team in exchange for marketing exposure, such as their name on the car’s livery.
“Effectively, if you manage to make the process shorter and more efficient it adds competitiveness to the operations because you free engineering time, free design time and free manufacturing that can be reinvested in more innovation,” says Mazzocco, whose specific role within Lotus F1 Team is to manage technical partnerships.
One of these technical partners is Elysium, a Japanese company that develops interoperability solutions for digital design and PLM markets.
In other words, its tools help Lotus F1 Team engineers to translate, repair and ensure product quality for 3D CAD/CAM and CAE models.
In compressed development cycles, which are especially the case in F1, engineers need fast and reliable methods to convert data between various CAD and CAE formats.
In most cases, when using built-in convertors and ‘neutral’ files (for instance from NX to Catia) – the resulting geometry may include flaws and imperfections like holes and unclosed edges.
This often means that the engineer will have to remodel the file to keep all the part’s geometry history and the original design intent – adding hours, days or even weeks onto the design cycle.
However, with Elysium the engineers can completely heal geometry in a fraction of the time.
“Our DNA is to provide solutions to translate data with maximum efficiency, speed, robustness and quality,” says Patrick Sergent, Elysium’s Europe engagement lead.
Sergent makes a twice yearly trip from Elysium’s European headquarters in Paris to meet with Lotus F1 Team engineers to answer their questions and demonstrate software updates.
“We want to stay very close to them and make sure they are using our tools as efficiently as possible. Lotus F1 Team will often have new challenges and we want to ensure they are using our software to its full potential,” says Sergent.
This is exactly the level of commitment and support the Lotus F1 team needs from its technical partners because compared to the ‘big guys’ on the grid such as Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes, Lotus F1 Team is comparatively small.
“This has always been the case even from the days of Benetton and Renault F1. But on occasions we have really managed to punch above our weight and one of the ways we are able to do that is through the relationship we have with our technical partners,” says Mazzocco.
“It is partners like Elysium who help us achieve these results with their commitment and dedication, despite the fact that we have smaller resources.”
When it began
Elysium started working with Lotus F1 Team back in 2002, shortly after Renault bought the team from Benetton.
The engineers at Enstone had already decided to move from Unigraphics to Catia, which of course would mean translating a lot of CAD files, including legacy data.
“The first component to be translated from Unigraphics to Catia was a complete gearbox. But the engineers were spending so much time having problems with translation that they came to us through another partner and finally, maybe in a few hours, the problems were solved. That was the starting point of our partnership,” says Sergent.
Now, throughout its development cycle from concept right through to production, Lotus F1 Team engineers use Elysium to complement its main CAD tool Catia V5.
It specifically uses CADdoctor, which – as the name suggests – heals or repairs any imperfections during the translation process and ensures product data quality before it is exported in the most suitable form for reuse in downstream consumption.
As Lotus F1 Team’s CAD/PDM manager Mick Bennett explains, at the aerodynamics concept stage CADdoctor is able to send data out to external partners in common industry-standard codes, such as IGES, STEP, or Parasolid.
“Then, in both the aerodynamics and the wind-tunnel design departments, we use the software for visualisation of complex geometries and to refine or clean up the models. There can be some very advanced conceptual surfaces in this area so the contribution to data quality is very valuable,” explains Bennett.
Once in the ‘full size’ design environment, models move back and forth between CAD and FEA. This sharing of files can be complicated as the engineering team’s stress analysts use a wide variety of tools, which can include Abaqus, Patran, Nastran and a range of Altair tools, amongst others.
“The choice is based on the analyst’s experience and the requirements of the particular case – if we need linear, nonlinear, composite, laminate or metallic analysis – we’ve got particular applications suited to each. CADdoctor ensures that the transfer of data between these tools is as efficient and trouble-free as possible,” says Bennett.
In the design process it is also useful to convert models between CAD versions, effectively downgrading models where features such as filter radii or the tangencies of surfaces might not translate properly.
In addition, CADdoctor is used by Lotus F1 Team’s stress engineers for tasks such as simplifying parts and removing selected features, so they can more easily load a complex assembly into FEA for meshing and analysis.
Working with suppliers
When it comes to manufacture, with a simple and dependable tool for data conversion, it allows Lotus F1 Team to choose from a large number of trusted suppliers when outsourcing the manufacture of components.
“We are really proud and pleased to work with Lotus F1 Team to help their processes become more efficient and help shorten their design loops. But our tools are not just suitable for companies like Lotus F1 Team but any company that faces time pressure in their development cycles and finds that they are spending a lot of time reengineering models,” says Sergent.
“There is also a fast growing market for CAD migration where Elysium is very active. We provide unique solutions which help many large and smaller companies to preserve the full design intent for future ECO’s and reduce the amount of manual re-mastering.” Lotus F1 Team is certainly seeing the benefits of using the Elysium tools, as Bennett says,
“In an industry where performance improvements are typically measured in fractions of a second, the substantial time-savings and improved reliability that CADdoctor provides throughout our processes free up our engineers’ time to carry out more design iterations and deliver more improvements to the track.”
Lotus F1 Team’s use of Elysium data translation tools