It’s an amazing thing to see a production intake valve being made. The forged blank is fed into a lathe by a robot, the view window goes white with the spray of coolant and metal shavings, and six seconds later a valve falls out. Racing valves are manufactured a bit differently, taking close to six weeks from forged blank to finished valve. It’s like the difference between the carefully hand crafted Tag Heuer watch Kimi flaunts at every interview and the cheap drug store watch your brother hastily bought for you on his way to Christmas dinner at your parents house. They’re both watches, but that’s about all they have in common. The valves, be it the one in your 335i, or the one in Nick Heidfeld’s Sunday driver, have something more in common than just both being valves. Neither of them was made by BMW.
The big move to outsourcing in production car parts began a few years ago, leading to more outsourced design work. Suppliers are selling full systems for OEM production, from the brake rotor to the brake pedal. Until recently the game in racing has been to design in house, even if the manufacturing is done elsewhere. Now with these suppliers gaining all that valuable system design for the OEMs, coupled with race teams’ ever tightening budgets, more and more race teams are looking to suppliers for design work; full systems to drop into the car. And the suppliers are more than happy to give, offering different off the shelf systems for the mid-level teams or the ultra-new design for whoever wants to spend the money. Next year the new design will be the off-the-shelf system, and five years later it will be an option on your 335i.
It’s a good time to be a supplier, and to be an engineer for a supplier. Based on all accounts the future will hold even more design work for the supplier. It just makes sense; when you buy a brake system from a company that makes brakes, you have a brake system that has been designed by engineers who do nothing but design brake systems. And that company has all the facilities to design and test those systems. Also they know what everyone else has, and while that may not translate to the best system, it almost certainly translates to a competitive system.
I currently work for a supplier and I have worked for a racing team in the past, and while I did some design work on the racing team, most of my time was spent sourcing suppliers. Either that or trying to convince my boss that spending the money to buy the supplier’s off the shelf system was a better bet than in house designing and testing. “These guys can do it better and cheaper than we can do it here.” I would say. “Then what am I paying you for?” He would ask. And I would stand there staring blankly at him, wondering the same thing.
This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Racecar Engineering.
Copyright © Matt Brown 2008
Cannot be used or reprinted without permission.