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Bloodhound steering wheel to use titanium additive manufacturing

Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP) : 26 September, 2013  (Application Story)
Cambridge Design Partnership has unveiled the final steering wheel design for the Bloodhound supersonic car. A specialist team of CDP engineers have been working on the Bloodhound Project since January, when they took on the vital work of finalising the design of the steering wheel for manufacture. One of the most exciting and inspiring UK engineering ventures in many years, the Bloodhound Project is the UK’s attempt to build a jet and rocket powered car that will exceed 1000mph.
The initial steering wheel design was created by the Bloodhound team using a number of novel design techniques including bio-mimicry, crowd sourcing and drawing on experience from the current land speed record holder Thrust SSC (763 mph, 1997), which was also driven by Tornado pilot Andy Green. Early concepts of the Bloodhound wheel were developed in clay from Green's hand imprints in the triple layer fireproof gloves he will wear for this record attempt.
The grips on the W shaped wheel will be specially moulded to Green's hands and manufactured from powdered titanium. There is no way this complex hollow design could be produced in one piece using conventional manufacturing methods. The prototypes were manufactured from powdered nylon by Materialise and demonstrate the limitless design possibilities that additive manufacturing opens up.
Cambridge Design Partnership took these initial designs and focused on optimising for a whole range of considerations, including ergonomics, usability and aesthetics to help give Andy an optimum driving experience and the best chance of breaking the world record. Recently, the team presented the final design, which had been designed using rapid prototyping at Cambridge Design Partnership, to Green and the Bloodhound team at the Technical Centre in Bristol, for testing and approval.
Karl Hewson, Usability and Design Engineer, Cambridge Design Partnership commented on the ergonomic considerations for the wheel: “With the Bloodhound car travelling a mile every 3.6 seconds, efficiency is of paramount importance and the smallest details could mean the different between success and failure.
“We retained the original geometry derived from the clay model of the grip area and repositioned the forward facing button locations to fit within Andy’s thumb pivot points. The new layout now allows a single fluid rotation movement of the thumb to transition from the power grip used when driving into an activation grip required to press buttons. This revised position could save between 0.5 and 3 football pitches of distance during the deceleration phase of each run; time which is vital when preparing the car for its return run.”
Aesthetics were a crucial part of the project, as the steering wheel will be on view throughout the land speed record runs from the cockpit cameras, broadcasting Andy’s view across the globe as he drives the car across Hakskeen Pan, South Africa at record breaking speeds. The Cambridge Design Partnership team incorporated swooping curves across the top and bottom of the steering wheel to add a dynamic aesthetic. The team also needed to ensure Andy had a clear line of sight to the instrumentation beyond the wheel, so design detailing could help improve conditions further.
The steering wheel was thoroughly reviewed with each design iteration, with actual-size models designed using rapid prototyping to allow the Bloodhound team and, critically, Andy to handle each one and give constructive feedback. The latest rapid prototype model was produced and finished on-site at Cambridge Design Partnership’s workshop to represent the final product, which was taken to Bristol and presented to Bloodhound. Checks were made with Andy sitting in the cockpit holding the wheel, to ensure certain factors such as comfort with the grip, no impingement on his legs when turning, and thumb travel to the buttons.
The final steering wheel will be manufactured using the latest titanium additive manufacturing technology, which allows for both the physical properties required to ensure structural integrity and the fluid design styling Cambridge Design Partnership wishes to convey.
Jez Clements, Partner at Cambridge Design Partnership commented: “Each design challenge the Bloodhound team encounter is extreme because of the speeds they wish to accomplish and pushes the boundaries of technology and abilities of the engineers involved. The work is a true example of research and development because the more you learn about the car, the more you find new challenges and broaden your knowledge. The Bloodhound Project’s open and collaborative attitude is refreshing, as the engineers share knowledge that can inspire people at any age and level of engineering.”
Dan Johns, Engineering lead on the steering wheel at the Bloodhound Project, said “We wanted to break away from a conventional functional driven design philosophy and use a more creative approach to the design solution. Deciding early on to use AM (Additive manufacturing also known as 3D Printing) as the manufacturing process allowed us creative freedom to explore nature’s structures and influence the shape. The ‘DNA’ of the steering wheel demonstrates how multiple collaborations through the design cycle can achieve a highly evolved solution where form and function are one and the same.”
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