MA­CHINES

RISE OF THE Mazak ma­chine tools have been used to build key com­po­nents on Mclaren’s For­mula 1 cars since 1999. James New­bold went to see how they are driv­ing UK man­u­fac­tur­ing for­wards

Motor Sport News - - Engineering Supplement -

W

or­ces­ter isn’t the first place you would nat­u­rally think of to base a global ma­chine tool com­pany, but Ya­mazaki Mazak has made the city home for the past 30 years.

Orig­i­nally founded in Ja­pan in 1919, the fam­ily-owned com­pany rose to promi­nence in the 1960s when it be­gan ex­port­ing prod­ucts to the United States, be­fore bas­ing Euro­pean pro­duc­tion in the UK in 1987.

Now a mar­ket-leader in CNC, laser­pro­cess­ing and multi-task­ing five-axis ma­chines on three con­ti­nents, Mazak’s Worces­ter plant is one of 10 around the globe where ma­chines are as­sem­bled for dis­tri­bu­tion and show­cased to po­ten­tial cus­tomers by a staff of more than 500 peo­ple. Mazak’s ex­pan­sive op­er­a­tion also in­cludes a fur­ther 78 sup­port bases dot­ted across the map, which of­fer demon­stra­tions, ad­vice and sup­port to a range of dif­fer­ent in­dus­try sec­tors in­clud­ing aero­space, med­i­cal and of course, motorsport.

One of Mazak’s most fruit­ful part­ner­ships in this re­gard has been with the Mclaren For­mula 1 team, which dates back to the hal­cyon days of 1999. Since then, Mika Hakki­nen and Lewis Hamil­ton have claimed driv­ers’ cham­pi­onships, while David Coulthard, Kimi Raikko­nen, Juan Pablo Mon­toya, Fernando Alonso, Heikki Ko­valainen and Jen­son But­ton have con­trib­uted to a tally of 65 vic­to­ries, av­er­ag­ing 3.6 per year.

With 25 Mazak units run­ning al­most around the clock, Mclaren has suc­ceeded in bring­ing the vast ma­jor­ity of its machining work in-house, giv­ing it far greater con­trol over out­put and a quicker turn­around speed. In the fast­paced world of F1, where a new de­sign tweak is sent to the ma­chine shop ev­ery 20 min­utes, the pro­duc­tiv­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity of a fac­tory makes a telling con­tri­bu­tion to on-track per­for­mance. Af­ter all, a race team is only as ef­fec­tive as the sup­ply of parts it receives.

“It’s a very val­ued part­ner­ship which has been im­por­tant for both par­ties, in terms of de­vel­op­ing in­no­va­tive prod­ucts from a ma­chine tool point of view and of course from their side in de­liv­er­ing high-qual­ity com­po­nents in a very short turn­around time,” ex­plains Alan Muck­low, Mazak’s UK man­ag­ing direc­tor.

“The key thing is the speed you can get from con­cept to part. We’ve got a ‘donein-one’ ca­pa­bil­ity, which means you put the raw ma­te­rial in and get a fin­ished part out. It’s no pun that speed is of the essence, not just for cars go­ing around the track but the parts that they can get to those cars both in the de­sign process and in the sup­port process dur­ing the sea­son.”

Just as Mclaren con­ducts ex­ten­sive devel­op­ment work on its cars to re­main com­pet­i­tive through­out a sea­son, Mazak is no dif­fer­ent. The ma­chine tool in­dus­try is pre­dom­i­nantly re­ac­tive, led by the re­quire­ments of the cus­tomer to em­brace new so­lu­tions, in­clud­ing hy­brid ad­di­tive tech­nolo­gies, in which Mazak is tak­ing a lead.

Ex­hibit­ing at the Autosport In­ter­na­tional Show is a use­ful means of killing two birds with one stone, as an op­por­tu­nity to meet with ex­ist­ing part­ners while gen­er­at­ing in­ter­est from vis­i­tors and other ex­hibitors too.

“One of the key ar­eas [in re­main­ing a mar­ket leader] is lis­ten­ing to our cus­tomers, be­cause they are the driv­ers of in­no­va­tion,” Muck­low con­tin­ued. “We’re con­stantly de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts be­cause the land­scape of man­u­fac­tur­ing is con­sis­tently chang­ing across ev­ery in­dus­try.

“The motorsport in­dus­try sec­tor in the UK is ex­tremely im­por­tant for us, it pro­vides a sig­nif­i­cant amount of our busi­ness in the UK and Autosport gives us the abil­ity to con­nect with those ex­ist­ing cus­tomers, and new cus­tomers.

“We’re very keen to en­sure that our in­vest­ment in in­no­va­tion matches our cus­tomer’s demands, be it in med­i­cal, oil and gas, aero­space or motorsport. Keep­ing a clear vi­sion of how our cus­tomers are de­vel­op­ing and the in­dus­tries that they serve are de­vel­op­ing is para­mount, so that we can de­velop our range of prod­ucts and ser­vices to match those re­quire­ments.”

Rather than a strictly lin­ear re­la­tion­ship be­tween ven­dor and client, Mazak prides it­self on of­fer­ing a holis­tic ser­vice, con­sult­ing with clients to find catered so­lu­tions and pro­vid­ing them with train­ing to use their ma­chin­ery ef­fec­tively. This ap­proach makes the Mclaren team’s suc­cesses all the more grat­i­fy­ing.

“It’s a very strong re­la­tion­ship which is built around suc­cess and a lot of hard work,” says Muck­low. “We’ll be in­volved in mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to them on the best method to pro­duce a par­tic­u­lar part, be it the ma­chine con­fig­u­ra­tion or the strate­gies to ma­chine those parts, all those as­pects which go into pro­duc­ing a part more pro­duc­tively and more ef­fi­ciently.

“Of course, that’s not all cases – there will be some cases where we will sup­port, other cases where they are fully able to sup­port them­selves, but we’re very proud to take our cus­tomer base to their fa­cil­ity and equally they’re very proud to come here and see the lat­est tech­nolo­gies that we of­fer. It’s a two-way part­ner­ship.”

An im­por­tant part of the pack­age is Mazak’s Smooth Process Sup­port Soft­ware, which al­lows users to have greater con­trol over their de­ci­sion­mak­ing and max­imise the up­time of their as­sets through re­mote di­ag­nos­tics. The idea is that by mon­i­tor­ing per­for­mance, it can be iden­ti­fied in ad­vance where main­te­nance work is re­quired and ac­tions taken pre­emp­tively to limit any costly down­time fur­ther down the line.

“There’s a whole suite of soft­ware that can fur­ther en­hance your pro­duc­tiv­ity, and that can be from the smaller one­man cus­tomer and the ma­chine right through to larger OEM or­gan­i­sa­tions,” adds Muck­low.

“It en­ables data to be used and not just any data, but the right data in the right place at the right time to make in­formed de­ci­sions, which take an as­set and make it even more pro­duc­tive.”

Mazak’s motorsport ac­tiv­i­ties are by no means ex­clu­sive to Mclaren. Their ex­per­tise can also be found in sev­eral grass­roots projects, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham’s For­mula Stu­dent pro­gramme and Cam­bridge Univer­sity’s Eco Racing ef­fort, which will en­ter the World So­lar Chal­lenge in Aus­tralia in Novem­ber.

“We’re in­volved in a lot of motorsport projects at dif­fer­ent lev­els, through other teams and the small sub­con­trac­tors that sup­ply into those teams,” Muck­low ex­plained. “We go right from grass­roots through to the top, and what we hope will hap­pen is that those stu­dents that started work­ing with us in For­mula Stu­dent will end up work­ing for some of the pre­mium motorsport com­pa­nies.”

Legacy is a key con­cern for the com­pany, as it seeks to make a last­ing im­print on the Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try. Mazak hosts the an­nual Tech­nol­ogy, De­sign and In­no­va­tion (TDI) Chal­lenge for schools, or­gan­ised by the Man­u­fac­tur­ing Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion and Muck­low hopes that through this and other mea­sures, it can in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion of en­gi­neers and tech­ni­cians.

“One of the key things for us here is ap­pren­tice­ships, that’s been a re­ally im­por­tant fo­cus for us over the last years in terms of de­vel­op­ing the skills which will keep our com­pany mov­ing for­ward,” he says.

“We have just launched the app, which will hope­fully drive more con­nec­tiv­ity with our cus­tomers and help us to ser­vice them, but we need to ser­vice them with highly-trained, highly-skilled ser­vice en­gi­neers, so it’s im­por­tant for us to train our staff to have the high­est level of knowl­edge on the lat­est tech­nolo­gies.

“Man­u­fac­tur­ing is hugely im­por­tant for the UK and we’re very proud to have our Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tre based in Worces­ter,” con­cludes Muck­low. “As we ap­proach our 30th birth­day, I think we’re an ex­am­ple of how you can be suc­cess­ful with in­vest­ment in in­no­va­tion.

“Clearly that’s im­por­tant for all Bri­tish in­dus­tries to take the same lead to main­tain a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ing is on a very good di­rec­tion at the mo­ment, and motorsport is tak­ing a lead in that.” ■

Aurok En­gi­neer­ing Ltd is an Öh­lins dis­tri­bu­tion, ser­vice and tech­ni­cal cen­tre based in the south of Eng­land. We deal solely with Öh­lins au­to­mo­tive prod­ucts. From the su­perb new Road and Track prod­ucts, which of­fer the very best in per­for­mance and ride qual­ity for an ever in­creas­ing range of road cars, to the awe­some TTX46 and TTX40, the dampers of choice for some of the best tour­ing car and GT teams all over the world, we have you cov­ered. We work with Bri­tish Rallycross, Bri­tish Truck Racing Cham­pi­onship, Mini Se7en Chal­lenge and Porsche Club Great Bri­tain, along with nu­mer­ous other cham­pi­onships in both the UK and abroad. With a rich his­tory in motorsport, we have

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