Shaped for Speed
How Brown & Miller Racing Solutions Uses Portable Scanning to Power an Engineering-Based Tube Shaping Process
Brown & Miller had an unusual beginning in 1999. Wade Brown, currently the US Director of Operations, started the company with his friend and colleague Barry Miller. At the time, both were working for an aerospace company that offered a small hose product line. Because of the high quality and reliability of the components, a handful of Formula 1 teams were successfully using the parts to campaign for the sport’s loftiest honors. Seeking a similar advantage, engineers in the racing world on the other side of the Atlantic took notice and started to build their machines with these state-of-the art parts, too. Sensing an opportunity, Wade and Barry formed a new venture, BMRS, taking over this product line and expanding it to meet the needs of this elite marketplace. Today, the company is a global enterprise with 30 employees in NC, 15 employees in the U.K., and a partner facility in Indianapolis, IN. In addition to having 100% of today’s NASCAR teams using BMRS parts, prominent Formula 1 teams and countless Midget and Sprint car teams also rely on parts from the organization to perform at their best on race day.
A critical project that Brown & Miller Racing Solutions worked on, the deeply impactful Car of Tomorrow effort with NASCAR, changed everything for the company. NASCAR invested heavily in the Car of Tomorrow project to future-proof the sport for decades to come. A primary focus of this effort was to emphasize safety, while also providing the speed and competitive racing that fans love. An area that BMRS was able to make significant engineering headway was the location and routing of oil lines. At the time, essentially all NASCAR teams had the oil lines running through the interior of the car, in and around the driver. Officials mandated that the oil lines be routed under the car, but this proved to be no easy task.
Craftsmanship and Repeatable Engineered Parts
Routing an oil line in and around a racing engine was challenging. The tolerances were extremely tight, and simply finding room for the oil line was oftentimes very difficult. In addition, the traditional means of getting an oil line fitted – typically hand bending the component in the race team’s work area – provided very little part-to -part consistency. In many ways, fabricating these systems calls for a triumph of skill, experience and patient fitting around immovable components in the race car. While a true test of craftsmanship, this methodology is challenging for an organization that needs to build multiple race cars on a tight time schedule, with redundant parts so repairs can be rapidly made in the field. As clients approached Brown about how to address this challenge, he sensed an opportunity. As a result, he invested in a sophisticated computer-aided tube shaping system for the BMRS shop floor.
In doing so, Brown and his production manager Rick White recognized that they had a bigger challenge than just bending tubes in front of them. What they required was a fast, accurate way to obtain engineering drawings of the lines so they could be easily entered into the tube bending systems operating platform. That way, BMRS could ensure that the components were very accurate, and repeatable over time — enabling them to meet customer needs again and again. What they needed was a portable scanning tool that could provide the speed and confidence needed to fulfill these requirements.
Old School Scanning Technology
Wade Brown knew that he needed to make an investment in a portable scanner, but he wanted to make a prudent choice, based on the fact that while he had allocated significant resources into a tube fabrication system, the actual business generated from this new production capability might be limited. Thus, in 2003, Brown began piecing together what he needed to launch this business line. A key piece of this initiative he already had: the right employee to head the tube bending project, production manager Rick White. Brown still needed two things to be successful, a good bending machine and a scanning system at an affordable price. As such, he sourced a first generation scanner arm, the ROMER France Axilla arm with GTube scanning tool. The system was portable in name only, as the actual scanner is permanently attached to a work station. But the quality of the ROMER product impressed the staff at BMRS. For a number of years, the system worked well enough for BMRS; due to the tool’s advanced age, and reliance on legacy software, however, this scanner became functionally obsolete in about 2012. The company simply stopped supporting the software required to develop CAD models for the tube bending machine, which spelled the demise of this tool chain for engineering tube systems.
In that time, though, BMRS had developed a strong business niche in this area, and true to the firm’s reputation, became a go-to source for extremely precise tubing configurations for high stress applications. The time had come for Brown and White to research the marketplace again to see what portable scanning system could help improve the speed of the operation, while offering the scanning confidence and accuracy that they needed.
Modernizing the BMRS Tube Shaping Process
With the help of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (then Hexagon Metrology) salespeople and application engineers, the organization selected a ROMER 75 Absolute Arm TubeShaper system. This solution, developed to meet the needs of a modern tube shaping operation, is unique because it combines a portable coordinate measurement machine (CMM) with non-contact tube probes and purpose-built TubeShaper software. The purpose-built arm and software combination helps accelerate the measurement and inspection process, requiring a minimum of user intervention.
Using the new ROMER TubeShaper system, Brown was able to realize his goals for rapidly turning these parts around, with the confidence that the tubing systems were of the highest quality. With the new Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence scanning tools, BMRS could scan a client’s part, bend the tubing on-site, rapidly check the work to ensure that it met requirements, and send the customer Computer Numerical Control (CNC) and Computer Aided Design (CAD) files. All these objectives, plus supplying the finished part (including a pressure check of the part, for safety) to the customer is now possible in under 24 hours. Without the TubeShaper system, meeting these objectives would be nearly impossible. And while having the part in hand is very important to the customer, the greater value of the process is that the system enables BMRS to easily obtain a CAD/CAM file. In this way, the art of tube bending evolves to an engineering process, allowing for easily repeatable tube systems to be manufactured with great accuracy, whenever the customer needs more parts. In the event that a customer needs it, BMRS can ship custom machine parts for fabricating their tubing system in a week or less, a major reduction in lead times (without the integrated scanning and bending system, this service would require weeks of laborious hand labor).
“The ROMER TubeShaper takes us quite far out in the future,” says Wade Brown, “the arm is far superior in every way – the integrated drawing and scanning capabilities, plus tube inspection system provides us with a versatile, portable, accurate tube bending solution,” he adds. With these capabilities, BMRS can now offer precision bending services in a size range of 1/8" to 2", in aluminum, steel, stainless steel, and titanium with a high degree of accuracy and repeatability. With these services, BMRS is able to increase precision and productivity wherever their customers are using tube bends. From fluid system tubing to chassis tubing – BMRS can meet their customer’s needs. A wide range of weld-on attachments is available for these parts, expanding the versatility of the tubing capabilities, too. In addition, the TubeShaper system enables BMRS to manufacture from drawings, reverse engineer tube systems from existing tube and mock-up parts, and allows the organization to offer precision quality control for exact fit requirements.
When your organization is able to accurately say that your products are used by 100% of today’s NASCAR teams, you must be doing something right. Focused on fabricating the world’s best fuel lines, oil lines, brake lines and next generation titanium parts for performance underhood applications, Brown & Miller Racing Solutions is successfully using their ROMER TubeShaper solution to power some of the best automotive racing teams to victory. Coupled with BMRS’ know-how and experience, the Hexagon solution is helping the organization deliver reliable components that stock car and F1 racing demands.