Manufacturing & Logistics IT spoke with Graeme Hackland, IT Director at Williams F1 Team, about the benefits the company derives from its existing IT portfolio, and its technology plans for the future.
The new Williams Mercedes FW37 was unveiled in February ahead of the first pre-season test in Jerez, Spain. The F1 grid is now once again adorned with the red and blue stripes that have grown to be so iconic in motorsport, as Williams Martini Racing is looking to build on its successful 2014 campaign where the team achieved nine podium finishes and finished third in the Constructors' Championship. The current season officially got under way at the first race in Melbourne, Australia, on 15 March. With these developments in mind, Manufacturing & Logistics IT thought it timely to speak with Williams' IT director, Graeme Hackland, about how IT plays such an important part for the company, both in the world of F1 and in the wider field of technological innovation:
MLIT: What do you consider to be some of the main critical daily challenges for an F1 car designer and manufacturer from an IT perspective?
GH: "The main challenge for a company like ours is that we take just-in-time manufacturing and design to the extreme. We work back from the when was the last possible moment we could fit a new part or add new performance to the car, and we work back through the manufacturing and design process in order to work out what the last possible opportunity is. That really puts challenges of the things such as warehousing and work in progress. We also do 'lifing' of certain parts on the Formula One car, so we need to know how many kilometres of tracks is involved. And that really close just-in-time way of working means capacity planning can be really tricky; this is one of our big daily challenges."
MLIT: Please provide an overview of Williams F1's IT software and hardware estate, and the benefits these software packages/pieces of hardware afford the company.
GH: "Williams has a largely virtualised server estate. We have over half a petabyte of storage and use a Siemens CAD and PLM system. For some of our specialist technical departments such as Computational Fluid Dynamics – which is part of aerodynamics team – we use Star-CCM+ from CD-adapco. This has a lot of pre-and post-processing capability in addition to offering the high performance computing that's really important to us. It's almost like a virtual wind tunnel, and we put a lot of time and effort into computational fluid dynamics.
"We also do some in-house development for some of the tools they use, such as the job scheduler. Being able to prioritise jobs is really important, especially as it's a regulated part of Formula One. The other area I'd like to touch on is our Stress Department, which each year prepares a new car to make sure that it passes the crash tests and works on a lot of the dynamics of the car. The Stress Department uses tools from MSC such as Nastran, and currently use very much an on-premise hardware infrastructure. However, we're looking to make use of Cloud because for three or four months of the year the Stress Department team needs a much higher capacity than we can provide on-premise, so Cloud will give us that opportunity to be more flexible.
"Like many other companies, Microsoft Excel is one of the engineering tools that we use. We are starting to build more applications in order to help the team, but Excel is used widely. We're also starting to create more databases in order to get the data to be more structured, then we can run more analytics. So, on the whole I think many engineering and manufacturing companies would recognise the types of systems in the virtualised environment that we run."
MLIT: Are any changes to your IT infrastructure scheduled to take place?
GH: "Williams is currently undergoing IT changes. This process is part of a wider business transformation that was initiated by Claire Williams and Mike O'Driscoll our CEO, and includes looking at people process technology. We are being encouraged to question everything in order to return Williams to the front of the grid. To win again we need to make sure that we have the best world-class tools available, so that's why we are looking at this IT transformation and want to improve every aspect of our infrastructure and applications."
MLIT: Please talk about any areas of IT customisation at Williams.
GH: "Williams as much as possible tries to use out-of-the-box solutions. There are, however, areas that you want to customise and bespoke, and very often that's the competitive advantage applications specifically around data analytics; for example, where you have a very specific need at the track for strategy or data analytics in real-time, or post-event analysis. That's where we are looking to do customisation, but otherwise like most engineering and factoring companies we want to use out-of-the-box as much as possible to make it easy to maintain and look after and really help the team to get the best use of the solutions that we have."
MLIT: Where does Williams' design, manufacturing and testing take place?
GH: "Other than the racetracks where obviously we go for all the Formula One races, we sometimes make changes to the car through the course of a race weekend. All of our design, manufacturing and aerodynamics activity takes place at Grove, and that includes our Williams Advanced Engineering division which does a lot of its own manufacturing and so on."
MLIT: Please talk about your manufacturing, warehouse and logistics partners and how your IT systems help you to engage with them more efficiently?
GH: "Williams relies on a wide range of partners to help us achieve what we need to within both Formula One and within our Advanced Engineering division. The main thing to focus on here is around security, data loss prevention and the protection of IP. Therefore, we build these strong partnerships in order to make sure that the IP that we are creating – either jointly or for Williams – is used for our best advantage. We look at secure transmission of this data between ourselves and our partners, or sometimes we will create VPN (virtual private network) tunnels that will allow them to connect to systems in Grove and use these systems in order to help us with our design and manufacturing work.
"Partners in warehousing and logistics are very important to Williams, especially across manufacturing, to help us achieve the very tight timeframes that we work to. So, the biggest challenge for us is securely communicating with them and sharing data."
MLIT: What type of Williams F1 or Williams Advanced Engineering technology is made commercially available to industries?
GH: "For many years, Williams has been taking the technology it develops outside of Formula One, but over the past couple years has specifically set up the Williams Advanced Engineering division in order to commercialise F1 knowledge and knowhow in a wide range of industries. We developed the batteries for Formula E, we worked with Jaguar on the CX75 hybrid supercar, and that included aerodynamics, carbon composite manufacture, hybrid technologies etc. We're also working with Nismo on Nissan performance cars, we're introducing F1 energy storage technology into solar arrays with Hanergy, and we've been working with Hatch on products and services in mining and energy.
"So you can see that there's a wide range of industries that we work with outside of Formula One. And there are many more areas that we are not allowed to talk about. We really are taking our knowledge and knowhow outside of Formula One in order to benefit other industries or society as a whole."
MLIT: What are Williams' future plans for its IT infrastructure?
GH: "The vast majority of IT services within Williams are currently on-premise, but it is our strategy to look towards either hybrid – where we will switch between a private Cloud and on-premise – or public Cloud services. For example, we are moving to Microsoft office 365, so will be using the Cloud email service. We are also looking at other areas of computation for Cloud, especially where we particularly need this flexible provision. Where we can't provide an on-premise peak for a particular function then Cloud makes a lot of sense.
"So, we are very definitely looking at Cloud and how we can leverage this either for cost savings – which is not always the big benefit you get out of it – but certainly the flexibility of provision. We're looking at mobility and collaboration tools so that the people who work regularly away from Grove are able to use the same tools and work in a very normal way. Also, one of the big focuses for us in terms of future plans is around data analytics and information; to allow our engineers to make data-driven decisions and to offer the information they need in real-time or whenever they need it."
A CLOSER LOOK AT WILLIAMS ADVANCED ENGINEERING
Williams has expanded and diversified its business in recent years. Williams Advanced Engineering provides world-class technical innovation, engineering, testing, and manufacturing services to a diverse customer base and utilises cutting edge technology and knowhow honed by the Williams Martini Racing Formula One team. Williams Advanced Engineering specialises in the commercial application of advanced lightweight materials, hybrid power systems, and electronics derived from the extremely competitive world of Formula One. The team has specialist experience in offering improved systems solutions, cutting edge aerodynamics, vehicle chassis dynamics, and holistic integration capability, all within accelerated development timeframes.
The company's comprehensive industry knowledge, specialist skills, and highly innovative products and services are helping to improve efficiency, safety, and performance in the motorsport, automotive, transport, and energy sectors. The capability of Williams Advanced Engineering can be observed by the versatility of its project portfolio, ranging from a novel bicycle electric drive, hybrid power systems for motorsport, automotive and energy applications, through to the Jaguar C-X75 hybrid supercar. Working in close collaboration with its customers, Williams Advanced Engineering helps them improve their performance, market position, and brand image while meeting the sustainability challenges of the 21st Century.
Williams Advanced Engineering's core markets at a glance