Enabling Effective Motorsport Transmission Development
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Enabling Effective Motorsport Transmission Development

By James Sundler, Head of Motorsport, Ricardo Performance Products

James Sundler, Head of Motorsport, Ricardo Performance Products

Winning at the very highest levels of motorsport takes a special combination of skill, experience and passion, whether you are the driver, a pit lane engineer or one of the global supply chain contributing to the modern race car.

Ricardo Performance Products is a UK based engineering and manufacturing firm that is proud to include motorsport as one of its longest standing and successful markets. “Ricardo’s motorsport activities are focused around the development and manufacture of transmissions for the very highest levels of motorsport. Our history in this market goes back to the 1980’s and the rise of the fearsome Group B rally cars where we were engaged to develop, initially differential systems, and then ultimately design transmissions capable of withstanding the brutal conditions of a rally stage,” says James Sundler, Head of Sales for Motorsport, Ricardo Performance Products. The motorsport market in which Ricardo operates grew quickly and now includes all the top-flight series including Formula 1, Formula E, WRC & R5 rally, GT and prototype racing along with a number of special one make series.

"Winning at the very highest levels of motorsport takes a special combination of skill, experience and passion"

These transmissions are manufactured in Ricardo’s state-of-the-art manufacturing center based in Leamington Spa, just north of Oxford. This manufacturing facility extends over more than 50,000 square feet and includes over 75 CNC centers and four distinct assembly areas. It also has the capability to undertake every element of the manufactured transmission, including all the critical torque path components through turning, heat treatment, then, gear grinding the prismatic components on multi-tasking machines. Although every year Ricardo manufactures 100,000 individual components, it rarely launches batches of more than 25 parts. “The challenge in working with so many customers with varying volume requirements in many motorsport markets is that we are continually producing small runs of very highly optimized components, often to incredibly tight tolerances,” explains Craig Cunningham, Operations Director for the site.

To be successful under such conditions, Ricardo has long promoted manufacturing ethos driven by quality and efficiency and has recently invested in a number of manufacturing initiatives to further enhance this capability. “For example, we have just introduced a new Leadwell CNC turning centre coupled to Siemens controllers allowing us to take advantage of the a rapid ‘teach’ capability when programming new parts” explained Cunningham. This is combined with the latest Sandvik Capto Tooling to reduce part change and set up time to an absolute minimum ensuring small batch runs are as efficient as possible. Ricardo is also one of the early adopters of “prime turning”, a new methodology that enables you to execute turning in all directions in a far more efficient manner.

Moving through the manufacturing process, Ricardo has also recently introduced a next-generation Gleason CNC shaper. These new CNC shapers replace machining centers that were historically based around mechanical helical guides, and now have “digital” electronic guides, enabling the creation of an infinite number of helix angles when cutting gear forms, all seamlessly available to the programmer when planning the manufacture. “High performance motorsport shafts are often optimized to the final gram, so having a single machining centre that can reproduce a number of features including splines and gear forms delivers significant operational efficiencies and greater part repeatability,” continues Cunningham.

One of the most critical components found in a motorsport transmission is the “bevel set” specifically designed to redirect the torque path through up to 90 degrees. “Bevel gears are critical to any transmission system taking input from the engine, often longitudinal to the chassis, and delivering drive to wheels, transverse to the chassis,” comments Sundler. Historically, in motorsport, these conical shaped gears were soft cut and then, heat treated. Ricardo, however, is using some of the latest bevel gear grinding technology from Klingelnberg; this not only allows the gear form to be hard ground, eliminating variations introduced through a post heat treatment, but more importantly forms an entirely digital closed loop feedback system. “The move to hard ground bevel sets means the gear form microgeometry can be generated, CMM inspected and fed back to the grinder, and geometrical adjustments made without the need for operator input,” explains Cunningham.

Like many of the processes being continually optimized and developed at Ricardo Performance Products, it is clear that the approach gives real tangible improvements in both quality and repeatability, all part of the skill, experience and passion that places them at the very top of motorsport transmission development.

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