The power of partnership

10 Jan 2018

Engineering capacity news posted by Andy Sandford

A unique collaboration between a UK precision casting business and a motorsport engine icon created ‘the world’s most reliable motorsport engine’ and a class winner at Le Mans.

In an increasingly globalised world, collaboration is integral if engineering companies are to continue to push boundaries in their respective fields. Multiple teams of experts, working seamlessly and bringing cutting edge technologies and processes together can overcome even the most difficult engineering challenges and deliver true innovation.

That’s particularly true in the case of Grainger & Worrall (GW), a business which has a long heritage of developing high performance automotive castings, structural castings, and EV powertrains, through the adoption of emerging technologies and processes. On their own, these solutions are highly effective but when coupled with the high-performance race engine expertise of Gibson Technology, a truly unique solution is developed; an engine that not only took first place in its class at Le Mans in 2017, but one which set a new precedent for reliability.

A Gibson LMP2 engine had never previously led a race at Le Mans or taken a podium overall. That all changed in 2017, when Jackie Chan DC Racing, run by Jota Sport, took second and third on the podium in their Oreca-Gibson #38 and #37 cars, respectively. The Gibson / GW engines also helped the cars achieve first and second places in the LMP2 class. 

While this represented a huge victory for the LMP2 teams, it validated the importance of long-term partnerships in engineering.  It was also testament to the skill and use of the latest technology by GW to produce engine castings that have delivered almost 144,000 kilometres (89,477 miles) without a single failure.

Tomorrow’s technology

While GW is well known for its use of traditional sand casting techniques, there’s nothing old fashioned about the way it manufactures engine heads, blocks and structural castings that are used in F1, high performance cars, aerospace and the emerging EV market.

The Bridgnorth business is a pioneer in the use of 3D sand printing, which it originally used exclusively for F1 clients to achieve world-class tolerances and the most complex internal geometries. Now operating three sand printers – each operating at 90% plus capacity – this technology is being used across the vast majority of GW projects, on everything from hyper cars to electric vehicles, and even helicopters!

Another technology that GW is using to push traditional casting into new performance milestones is modelling and computer simulation. Technical director at Grainger & Worrall is Keith Denholm. He explains: “We’re using tools that model the flow and solidification of liquid metal; the processes that define the quality of the casting.

“We have to obsess about defects in castings. Defects have no strength and have to be eliminated. The mechanical and thermal demands our customers place on these castings requires consistency at every level so process controls and testing on the shopfloor are of critical importance. This is why we deploy compositional spectrometry in every melt preparation and the use of digital x-ray and CT is mandatory at Grainger & Worrall.

“When this is done correctly, you get a very high-tech, high performing product at the other end. The markets we operate in – prototyping, motorsport and prestige or niche marques such as sports car manufacturers – exemplifies the opportunities that are here today and will continue for some time, helping push forward various castings technologies.”

It’s a people thing

While GW’s adoption of the latest casting technologies was a key component of Gibson’s Le Mans success, the importance of collaboration should not be underestimated.

John Manchester, Gibson Technology’s operations director, said: “Completing Le Mans with a total of seven of the top ten positions was a massive achievement for all concerned. While the drivers and race teams did an amazing job to take on some of the biggest names in endurance racing, the sheer resilience and reliability of the GW cast engine was a major contributing factor that cannot be overstated.

“Our collaboration with GW goes back years and demonstrates how UK engineering businesses can work together in true partnership to deliver world-class results. Without our shared ‘can do’ cultures, commitment to new technologies and close co-operative ethos, we could never have created an engine that has proven so remarkable.”

Last year saw the largest ever number of Gibson engines on the LMP2 grid at Le Mans, record 25 cars powered by Gibson engines, in total supplying and supporting 19 different teams. This is an amazing achievement for the UK manufacturer, with its GK428 engines making their Le Mans debut.

During the world-famous endurance race, the performance of the Gibson engines was unprecedented, with reliability second-to-none, especially given the extreme temperatures and conditions. An impressive 21 out of the 25 Gibson-powered LMP2s finished the 24 hours, with the four retirements unrelated to engine issues.

Throughout Le Mans race week, and during the 24-hour race itself, Gibson engines covered a total of 143,440.03 kms (89,129 miles), equating to an impressive 719 hours and 27 minutes.

Founder of Gibson Technology, Bill Gibson, added a final note on the reliability of their engines. “During Le Mans, our engines travelled the equivalent of three and a half times round the world without any issues, demonstrating how incredibly reliable they are. This was made possible through engineering excellence and the power of collaboration, setting a new precedent for motorsport engines.”


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