The Pattern Shop is one of the most integral parts of any Formula One team; it is responsible for accurately transferring the ideas of our designers into life-sized parts that are ready to fit to the car. At our factory in Brackley, we have 11 team members working full time in the Pattern Shop. There are eight machine operators, who are also trained to help with the programming, one full-time programmer, and two pattern makers who are responsible for the material preparation and the fine hand finishing. They are also in charge of the ‘shuttering’ process, which is a board allowing you to mould one side of the component, then strip the shuttering away and mould the other side of the component, until you get two pieces of a mould with a join line.
But firstly … what is a pattern?
A pattern is a full-size model of the final component which is made from dense epoxy tooling block. From this dense model, a mould can then be made for the actual part. The tooling block is lacquered and onto this is laminated a carbon fibre mould which is then cured at temperatures of 55 degrees and pressures of 90psi in our autoclaves. An epoxy tooling block is a stable enough material to withstand these conditions and maintain the accuracy of the parts. Once the mould is cured and the patterns are removed, the remaining mould can be layered with carbon fibre to produce the final part.
The manufacturing of patterns and moulds has followed a similar process since the early days of racing. Danny Kerwood, Head of Machining in our Pattern Shop, has been making patterns in motorsport with the same passion for thirty years, and has seen the vast changes in regulations, lap times and most dramatically, in manufacturing technology.
Just ten years ago, all of the work was done by hand, and patterns were carved out of mahogany (a stable, traditional pattern making material) and it took the department around six weeks to produce a chassis pattern. It took great skill to maintain what was then an impressive accuracy of between half a millimetre and a quarter of a millimetre on crucial parts of the chassis. With modern technology, what used to take six weeks will now take the Pattern Shop just one week (and that includes finishing and painting) and the level of precision is now calculated in microns.
One of the targets of the Pattern Shop is to maximise this accuracy whilst being as quick and efficient as possible. A good example would be a part such as the rear wing which the department is able to programme, machine and finish in a single day.
Strong communication is vital…
The Pattern Shop needs to be able to react quickly to the demands of producing new parts for the car. Due to its central position in the design process, the Pattern Shop will communicate and work very closely with other departments, primarily the Design Office and Composites. The Design Office are responsible for sending the designs and the pattern makers will then communicate their input back to the designers if some minor changes are required to aid the machining. This strong communication helps to ensure a high quality standard in the manufacturing process.
Over the last few years, teams became much more involved in recycling used materials. The tooling block used to make a pattern for example… in the past, it used to become obsolete after use. The team can now store and preserve it for later use which not only helps the environment, but helps to reduce costs as the material used can be in excess of £5000 per cubic metre!
(With thanks to Danny Kerwood and the Pattern Shop)