Engineering Speed On and Off the Track
TE's Rich Harmer provides insight into the compelling and fast-paced world of engineering solutions in motorsport.
The Speed of Solutions
Since beginning this experience, I have had many people ask me about my typical day as a motorsport engineer at the Andretti Headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. For this somewhat complex question I can only provide a simple answer; there is no answer. A typical day here does not exist. It is not possible, not in the world of auto sport. That is what makes this job so remarkably exciting and also efficient.
When I first transitioned from the Formula E headquarters in Donington Park (UK) to the facility in Indianpolis, it was a very eye-opening experience for me. While I enjoyed the closeness of the work in the UK, the nature of Indianpolis felt much more comparable to the processes I am familiar with as a TE engineer, and Andretti only increases how dynamic those opportunities really are. In addition to Andretti’s Formula E team, I am now exposed to IndyCar, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, and Global Rallycross team. Each day I meet new parties and am working with people from all pieces of the different processes.
The timeliness that derives from the direct collaboration between teams leads to incredible results. We have the engineering speed behind-the-scenes to engineer speed on the racetrack.
I am based in the engineering office with a desk of my own and now that most people here know who I am and what my specialties are, they will simply drop by with a request when needed. I’ve become an engineering consultancy here in Indianpolis, with people asking me daily if we have a product or technology at TE that would help them overcome a particular problem.
For example, I was introduced to a few electricians not long ago. By the end of that week one of them had just stopped by my desk to pick my brain and it instantly transformed to a problem-solving situation.
The IndyCar team currently uses oil heaters with standard 2pin US plugs to run when in the pits, but these are pretty fragile and do not look very "racecar-like." Therefore the electricians wanted to use the type of plug found in laptop chargers, as the team always has lots of those running in their garages.
I then immediately found some male connectors and samples for the engineer to try out. In this case this is probably the best connector to use because if we used a traditional autosport connector it would require dedicated charging cables that could easily get lost or damaged. By using this common style of connector it allowed much better flexibility, and improved reliability due to the tougher and smaller construction.
The process was so direct and efficient that we were able to progress through the stages at a rapid pace. This can also be seen in the use of 3D printing for racecar improvements.
TE’s team of engineers has been producing many of the components for the new motor and inverter using advanced 3D printing technology. The inverter’s main cover, the phase connection cover, the DC bus bar supports, and the capacitor supports were printed using a variety of different materials chosen due to their mechanical and electrical properties. TE, Andretti and its technical partners collaborate on direction and instantly start designing solutions at a rapid speed. The process is much quicker and more efficient than that of ordering a traditional product. We simply make changes, test and see what happens.
On a daily basis I discover new and innovative ways that we can partner with Andretti to further their success. Because of TE's vast and diverse product portfolio, we are able to leverage the right product from any industry.
With the first Formula E race of Season 2 in Beijing rapidly approaching, the Andretti team has been hard at work finishing all the last minute preparations. It's going to be an exciting opening race, in which I hope we will be at the front fighting for podium results. I really look forward to sharing those experiences through this new platform and think it will be an excellent tool to demonstrate the collaboration, conversation and innovation that goes on behind-the-scenes of this partnership with Andretti Technologies.