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Comment: Why headaches for F1 teams are good news for the rest of us

Regulatory changes in Formula One play a surprising role in fostering innovation.

While regulation changes in the dynamic world of Formula One present headaches to race teams focused on reliability and scoring maximum points at every round, for engineers such developments often create opportunities.

This year, every car will be powered by a brand new engine, an important change that has been stipulated by the sport's governing body, the FIA. Clearly, the voice of the environmental lobby within motorsport has been growing for some time and the need to move to lighter, smaller, greener engines is undeniable. Hence in 2014, we are seeing teams shifting from 2.4l, V8 normally aspirated engines, to a new breed of 1.6l, turbo-charged V6 alternatives.

The new generation of engines has seen reliability challenges during the closed season. This has meant that all partners along the supply chain have had to work even harder to develop manufacturing methodologies to maximise power output from a much smaller capacity engine. This type of engineering conundrum is the very crucible of innovation: without new challenges and defined targets, it's all too easy for industry to back away from the R&D imperative, which is expensive and time consuming. While healthy market competition encourages innovation, nothing quite focuses a design team's effort like a starting grid and a race date that cannot be moved!

Engineering challenges posed by recent changes in F1 have acted as a remarkable catalyst to innovation, pushing the boundaries of engine technology to the limits.

At Grainger & Worrall, our motorsport team was the first in the UK to employ advanced CT scanning to gain a better understanding of a casting's integrity and geometric accuracy. Thanks to this ability to examine both the interior and exterior of the parts, we now see a detailed picture of how castings are behaving at every stage of manufacturing. Such an appreciation of the different geometries enables us to calculate differential contraction rates, rapidly validate and define evolutionary changes to tooling, creating more precise castings.

The use of CT scanning also enables the internal cast topography to be correlated with thermodynamic simulation predictions, thus providing the simulation engineer with the true boundary condition of the actual cast components internal three-dimensional data file.

This detailed understanding of distortion within critical areas of engine casting can also be applied to high-performance diesel engines in the automotive market. This illustrates one of many ways in which innovation in motorsport can be adapted for the volume automotive sector.

Another exciting development is the use of sand printing – the casting industry's version of 3D printing, which enables the manufacture of highly complex engine components. This reduces development time, facilitates greater geometry flexibility and is a central part of our toolkit.

Lastly, the re-adoption of turbo engines in F1 has created new challenges for material performance, which has led to R&D investment into metallurgy.

Traditionally, the casting metal of choice has been a standard aluminium/silicon alloy. However, since the move to smaller, lighter, turbo engines, we have pioneered the use of bespoke aluminium/copper alloys, which have better mechanical properties at higher temperatures. The adoption of this new alloy complements our existing range of materials for high-performance engineering.

F1's adoption of the green agenda has led to a gearshift in casting technology. Our journey into CT scanners, the use of new metals and the latest 3D printing know-how would have been unheard of even five years ago and it won't be long before this knowledge will be put to good use by conventional carmakers.

Phil Ward is head of motorsport at Grainger & Worrall (www.gwcast.com). Based in the West Midlands, the company employs some 400 staff across its two sites in Bridgnorth and Telford and is a market leader in the field of prototype and small series complex high-integrity structural castings.

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