Dan Fallows: How to make an F1 car

The tools might not be as specialised as you'd think...
09 July 2024

Interview with 

Dan Fallows, Aston Martin


Aston Martin car


In this edition of Titans of Science, it’s the turn of the British Formula One engineer Dan Fallows. He’s currently technical director at Aston Martin and took us on a tour of their base in Silverstone...

Chris - You were right about the noise.

Dan - Yes, it is quite noisy in here. Actually it gets even noisier than this. What we have in here, as you can see it's a very tall room, and it needs to be this tall because some of the machines that we have here are very tall themselves, and they have components that move up and down. But in reality, they're just very posh versions of what some people even have in their garage. Lathes and mills, which are just machines that have a sort of drill bit at the end of them, they're able to cut into various materials. So we use things like a tooling block, which is a wood type substance, and then we have, at the other end of it, traditional metals like aluminium and steel. These machines are designed to very, very accurately cut into those materials and produce shapes that you want. You'll either use the final component directly on the car itself, or they will be making moulds that we can then apply carbon fibre to. That will be the final component.

Chris - They look space age. It's almost like the TARDIS in Dr. Who: all of these pods that have pipes and wires and things, but there are no people. Is this all basically computer driven, someone sitting at a computer telling these machines what to do?

Dan - Yes, and it is something that's really taken off over the last 10 or 20 years. Everything we design on a computer on what we call a CAD system. We can, in the same system, say how we would like that to be made. So it's not just about designing the part, but also saying, I'd like this to be made in a certain way. That's all done upstairs. We can literally pipe that down electronically to these machines. Somebody can come in, put the correct material in the machine, and then the machine can then go off and do exactly the shape that you want. So the whole process is almost entirely automated.

Chris - And someone could say, I think we want to adjust the shape of the front of the card just by a fraction of a millimetre because of some data we got from a race last week and you could have a new front end knocked out by the end of the day?

Dan - It's like you've been here. That's exactly what we do. It's got this kind of thing all the time and it sometimes is fractions of a millimetre. We see that we have something happening on the car that we're not happy with, so with all our sensors we can tell a lot about the car as it's running round. And if we decide at the end of a race weekend that we want to do something differently, we can have that designed, we can have it thought about, designed, and manufactured within a week and on the car for the following weekend. So it is that quick.

Chris - It's also very loud. Should we go?

Dan - Yes. Let's.

Chris - That's a relief, but it's an amazing production line. You've got basically the researchers with the data modelling something, turning it into something that then becomes reality all within minutes.

Dan - It is very quick. The other part that we don't see in this area but is in a different building, we also have what we call additive manufacturing facilities, which is 3D printing. They're literally like 3D printers that some people even have at home now. There's a lot of them in schools and they are basically large versions of those. We can use lots of different ceramic materials in those and some parts of the car are now being built in those facilities as well. The point about that is it's even faster and even more complicated shapes that you can build without having to resort to these very noisy machines in there.


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