© Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

The mate­rials for success

Light­weight mate­rials are a crucial factor for the success of ebm-papst and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport. They make both Formula OneTM cars and fans econom­ical and sturdy, and they make inno­v­a­tive shapes possible.

Weight has always played an impor­tant role in racing, as demon­strated by the orig­inal story of the Silver Arrows. It all began in 1934 on the eve of the Eifel race at the weighing station on the Nürbur­gring. The regu­la­tions allowed no vehicle to weigh more than 750 kilo­grams. The brand new W 25 weighed one kilo­gram too much however. Alfred Neubauer, manager of the Mercedes-Benz racing team, had the white paint ground off, leaving a purely aluminium body that sparkled in silver – the Silver Arrows were born.

Today light­weight design and the selec­tion of the right mate­rials have become a science in their own right. Clever mixtures, espe­cially carbon-fiber compos­ites, make today’s Formula OneTM cars not only espe­cially light but also espe­cially sturdy. More than 85 percent of a racing car’s chassis is made of carbon-fiber compos­ites. “The complex shapes you see on a modern F1 car are in part only possible because of recent devel­op­ments in mate­rial and manu­fac­turing processes. The advent of computer-controlled machines and rapid-proto­type tech­nology have allowed aero­dy­nam­i­cists to test much more intri­cate shapes in the wind tunnel”, explain Geoff Willis, Tech­nology Director at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport.

Half the weight of a normal car

To deter­mine which mate­rials to use where and how thick the mate­rials need to be, engi­neers perform numerous so-called finite element simu­la­tions to analyze the forces at work on indi­vidual parts of a car and deter­mine the ideal shapes and thick­nesses of the compo­nents. “Our experts are constantly looking at new mate­rials and methods and we are regu­larly one of the ‘early adopters’ of such tech­nolo­gies. This is possible through constant testing of a variety of new mate­rials and shapes. Such testing and analysis has enabled us to consid­er­ably reduce the weight of the car from the first race”, says Geoff Willis. Thanks to refine­ments in carbon-fiber compos­ites and the use of other light­weight compo­nents, today’s Formula 1 cars weigh around 722 kilo­grams, only about half the weight of a conven­tional car. The limit is not a tech­nical one; it results from FIA regu­la­tions.

High preci­sion at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport machine shop: tooling parts that are used to cut and sculpt various different metal compo­nents of the car. (© Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.)

Research on modern mate­rials is also extremely impor­tant for the contin­uous refine­ment of prod­ucts at ebm-papst. Here too, an impor­tant aim is to reduce weight while improving func­tion­ality. The latest version of the RadiPac centrifugal fan is an example of how this works. Its airfoil blades are hollow and made of aluminum, reducing the weight of the impeller while increasing its stability. In combi­na­tion with other aero­dy­namic improve­ments in all RadiPac models, this increased the effi­ciency by more than 13 percent over earlier models.

Aluminum + plastic = more flex­i­bility

Another example of clever use of mate­rials is the HyBlade® axial fan, which uses a unique composite mate­rial that was specially devel­oped for large axial fans. Its body is made of aluminum to provide the required rigidity and has a covering made of glass-fiber-rein­forced plastic, allowing complete freedom of design for the fan blades. They can be refined down to the last detail, for example through the addi­tion of winglets on the blade tips – like the ones on the front wings of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport cars. The result: greater aero­dy­namic effi­ciency, lower weight, and noise reduc­tion that is nothing short of revo­lu­tionary.

The HyBlade® axial fan uses a unique composite mate­rial that was specially devel­oped for large axial fans.

Sustain­ability also plays an impor­tant role in the devel­op­ment of new mate­rials at ebm-papst, as shown by energy-saving fans made of epylen®, a wood-plastic composite that satis­fies a long list of require­ments. The raw mate­rials need to be not only renew­able but also en­viron­mentally friendly in their pro­duction. They also need a number of chara­cteristics, such as high thermal resis­tance and very low shrink­age and warping, that make them suit­able for pro­cessing and for use in the final product.

These exam­ples from the worlds of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport and ebm-papst show that research and devel­op­ment on new mate­rials can lead to crucial advan­tages over competi­tors again and again. That’s why the two part­ners will keep on rethinking mate­rials in the future – and the color of the parts will be among their least concerns.

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