Advanced machining specialist Formaplex regularly rises to challenges when supplying pattern and tooling services to Formula 1 and other motorsport teams, but this project was something different.
We are renowned for our carbon composite machining, including composite chassis machining, for Formula 1 and Le Mans teams, but this chassis machining job was larger than anything we have ever attempted before. It’s fair to say that it was one of a kind!
The chassis in question was for the Bloodhound SSC, the supersonic car that has been created by the Bloodhound Project to attempt a 1,000mph world land speed record on the Hakskeen Pan, Northern Cape, South Africa in 2013/14. World land speed record holder Andy Green will be behind the wheel.
We have extensive experience in the machining of various composites structures, but the size of the Bloodhound SSC carbon chassis had more in common with the military work that we do for troop carriers than that of a single-seater race car.
The inclusion of the air intake on top of the chassis meant that the obvious machining strategy would not have worked due to the overall height and hence our approach had to change . Instead, the chassis was jigged and laid on its side, allowing our 5-axis machine to operate on the side of the chassis with access to both ends.
The chassis was machined in several positions over 10 days using specialist tooling to cope with the aggressive nature of the carbon-fibre composite.
The machining of a chassis is a high-risk business: a lot of time hard work and expense had gone into the programme before it reached this stage and even a small error on our part would have wrecked it. Fortunately our highly skilled and experienced staff were able to take this project on with confidence.
Few people realise that for high-tolerance accuracy machining, simply moulding the features is not enough. As the composite cures, there is always some movement within the composite component. Experienced designers such as ours are aware of such issues and allow for extra sacrificial plies to be applied to the datum faces. We can then machine these faces and datumise the chassis, allowing all the holes and important faces to tie up as the designer intended.
We are very proud to be involved in such an exciting programme that showcases to the world the high standards of engineering that makes this country great.