New test cells to usher in new business for McLaren

  • 12-Aug-2009 01:36 EDT
A rear drive unit undergoes testing in McLaren's mini transmission error cell as a worker looks at the harmonic orders.

The namesake company behind McLaren Canadian-American (Can-Am) Challenge Cup racing shifts into overdrive with an $8.5 million investment to support high-volume production applications.

"McLaren is evolving. The strategy of supporting Linamar, which purchased McLaren in 2003, continues to progress toward high-volume, broader-market applications," Philip Guys, Vice President of Engineering for McLaren Performance Technologies, said in an exclusive AEI interview prior to the company's 40th anniversary celebration at its Livonia, MI, headquarters.

Amid a backdrop of historic McLaren Can-Am and Indy racecars, McLaren employees and guests ushered in the next phase of business with the launch of a 15,000-ft² (1400-m²) expansion facility for testing "that will help McLaren and Linamar fulfill the role of being a full-service driveline supplier. The primary mission of having this additional testing capability is to support high-volume automotive business," said Guys.

The new building houses two test cells. Built by AVL, the gear transmission error cell will perform steady-state and transient speed tests. "It will be possible to conduct torque sweeps and speed sweeps as well as slow-roll for dynamic backlash measurements. The three-axis dynamometer setup allows us to input torque in one axis and absorb torque in the other two axes independently. The new transmission error cell—capable of handling a small power transfer unit up to a Class 5 beam axle—will enable engineers to obtain an infinite number of mapping points. In contrast, McLaren's mini-transmission error cell is appropriate for one-speed and one-load mapping of one or two points," said Guys.

An AVL-built NVH and durability test cell will use a dynamometer capable of operating at up to 6000 rpm and as much as 980 kW (1314 hp) "to run the gamut of high-speed car and high-torque truck applications," said Guys, who previously worked as the chief engineer for transmission and driveline systems at Ford Motor Co. A transmission or driveline component can be tested inside the hemi-anechoic and climatic chamber that can be temperature-controlled from -40 to +120°F (-40 to +49°C). All prototype builds and teardowns will happen inside an adjacent 5000-ft² (465-m²) area. The test cells are slated to go online in October.

McLaren Technologies' Livonia site includes 14 other engine/driveline test cells, a Zeiss three-axis coordinate measuring machines (CMM) lab, and a competitive benchmarking area. "There are a lot of subtleties that you pick up in doing your own teardowns," said Guys. No team members are specifically assigned to the competitive benchmark area, but all of McLaren's engineers and technical specialists regularly use the room for in-depth analysis of components. "We probably spend 20% of our time learning by reverse engineering and doing R&D activities," Guys said.

A unique non-automotive project is one of the more unusual ongoing programs at McLaren. "Right now, we're about halfway though the validation process for an engine that uses hydrogen as the working gas. We've been able to replicate sun energy—primarily through the use of induction coils—to drive the engine in order to test the components. Our customer—the holder of the original intellectual property—came to us to turn the concept into a more high-volume, manufacturing-friendly, cost-effective solution," Guys said about a solar-energy harnessing apparatus whose concept-to-production-to-market timetable is about half as long as the automotive industry's norm. 

Prior to being purchased by Linamar, McLaren's racecar contributions included Buick turbocharged V6 engines for various Indy and the International Motor Sports Association competitions and Cadillac turbocharged V8 engines for 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance events. "We're not entirely walking away from McLaren's racing heritage. There is great value in a feedback world where you build, test, and get your performance results right away," said Guys.

McLaren's diversification beyond racing programs is an intentional undertaking. "Linamar's purchase of McLaren in 2003 was viewed as a way to move Linamar's business beyond machining and build-to-print. In late 2007, Linamar purchased the driveline power transfer unit business from Automotive Components Holdings. And now with the investment that expands McLaren's testing capabilities, McLaren is repositioning its R&D to handle full-service driveline systems," said Guys.

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