Oxford, England--The major Formula One racing teams in Great Britain, like their counterparts elsewhere, have been using finite element analysis (FEA) to improve their car designs for several years. Now, some of the smaller teams are using it, too--and winning races.
In one of the first examples of the spread of FEA, two British engineering firms recently used Structural Research and Analysis Corp.'s COSMOS/M software to add stiffness to the chassis of their respective entrants in both Formula One and the British Touring Car championships.
Pilbeam Motor Sports Designs used COSMOS/M to design and analyze a roll cage for a leading contender in the world touring rally championship. Engineers had done the original CAD design in Bentley Microstation. Their analysis goal: add stiffness to the chassis within acceptable stress levels. In less than a week, engineers had created a design that doubled the car's stiffness over the original configuration, says Laurence Marks, of NT CADCAM Consulting, who worked with the team.
"Actually, the analysis took about two days, the time during which the engineers trained in the use of the software," Marks says. "They tried several options for adding stiffness before deciding on the final design." The team validated the analysis model with rig tests of the completed car.
"Previously," says Marks, "the team didn't use finite element analysis at all, so the software saved them considerable time and money."
Since the FEA work, the car has won several rallies.
Pilbeam also used Structural Research's FLOWPLUS computational fluid dynamics software to analyze air flow around the front of a car. The team then verified the analysis in the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) wind tunnel.
Engineers at TWR Formula One, another engineering firm, also used COSMOS/M to add stiffness to the chassis of its Formula One, Le Mans, and British Touring entries. The latter, a Volvo originally designed with AutoCAD software, has one of the best records in the 1998 Touring championship circuit, which runs from March to October. Marks says TWR engineers performed the analysis in about four days with no training.
Speed of analysis and design is critical in racing, says Marks, because racing teams have very little time to spare. "The design time scale is something on the order of three frenetic months, although faster CAD-to-track times are often reported," he says. "The biggest change over the last decade has been the compression of analysis time scales and the associated reduction of costs, (thanks) to the ongoing increase in computing power available to the average user. Engineers can now run analyses on the same machines designers have on their desks."
For more information on COSMOS/M and FLOWPLUS software from Structural Research and Analysis Corp. (C):