Wirth Research (www.wirthresearch.com; Oxfordshire, England) began in 2002 as a fledgling group of engineers focused on R&D activities for a small number of race car programs. Back then, their needs for advanced CAD and PLM software systems were minimal, according to Darren Davies, engineering manager at Wirth Research: "We had specific engineers dedicated for each of the racing cars, so the need for CAD was quite minimal because everyone was spread out and doing their own work and it was quite manageable at that level."
As Wirth's responsibilities grew to include the development of complete drivetrain, engine and chassis systems, the company knew it had to grow its CAD/CAM capabilities to assure that parts were accurate, while assuring that manufacturing was done quickly, yet reliably. "We basically now became the manufacturer of the whole car, and that required upping our game and the need for digital tools increased," says Davies. Now, Wirth uses Siemens (www.plm.automation.siemens.com) NX digital product development and TeamCenter PLM software solutions to manage the complexities of design and manufacturing of the vehicles, while also assisting with communication between Wirth's staff and customers, most of whom are based on the U.S. (e.g., Wirth has been working with Honda Performance Development since 2003 on its IRL program). "We need to share information with our customers in terms of design and they need to know what we are doing and where we are in the process so that everyone has accountability," says Davies.
NX and TeamCenter have helped to shave the development time for most critical components. Davies points to the development of the gearboxes as one area where software tools have improved both performance and manufacturing efficiency, reducing development time by as much as 50%. "Designing and manufacturing a gearbox would take up the whole development cycle for the car-it would be going on concurrently with the rest of the program," Davies says. Most of that time would be taken up by perfecting the accuracy of the tolerances between the actual drawings and the finished product. If engineers specified a 3-mm wall thickness they would have to include a 10% margin for potential errors or differences in stress testing, which would mean the thickness could be as small as 2.7 mm in the real world. Using NX's advanced finite element analysis tools, Wirth is now able to better predict what affects stress will have on the engine and thus improve the ability to meet the 3-mm target. "We can now analyze the results of virtual testing and see what needs to be done next, without building a single piece," Davies says. Shorter development cycles are not indicative of a more relaxed engineering operation, says Davies. The time saved is now spent testing the limits of each component: "Now we have that extra time taken up with optimization work, seeing if we can get more performance out of the part while gaining more confidence in it."
Wirth is looking to the future with an eye on using virtual tools to improve the accuracy of composite material construction, which make up 50% of the car's body. Davies envisions using virtual tools to "drape" composite cloths over the body piece molds before a single piece is made. "This will help us have a better integration of finite element analysis in the body design process. This is what we are really looking forward to getting into."