Four years ago, during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Team Germany came away from the games without a medal in bobsledding. Thanks to a newly unveiled bobsled design from BMW, the country may fare better at PyeongChang next month.
As BMW explained last week, the new bobsled will prominently feature CFRP. The OEM has extensive experience using CFRP to produce everything from mass-produced vehicles like the i3 to high-performance hulls for two-time America’s Cup winner ORACLE Team USA. According to Thomas Hahn, the head of BMW’s technology transfer, the OEM has a sophisticated system in place to manufacture the bobsleds the team will use.
“First, we measured and digitalized the bob, and optimized it using computer simulation,” explained Hahn. “To produce the prototypes, we used a precision mill to manufacture a negative mold that will then be used to bring the carbon fibers to the exact desired positions. This precision form guarantees that the test, measurement and race results are transparent and comparable. Which means the sleds produced can be reproduced identically.”
BMW then took the prototypes to its wind tunnel to analyze their aerodynamics. The wind tunnel is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. It facilitates wind speeds of up to 300 km/h (186 mph). Thanks to its enormous computing capacity, various aerodynamic models can be calculated within a very short time.
“We can optimize the bobs here in exactly the same way as we optimize our cars,” said Holger Gau, BMW expert for 3-D simulation methods. “We look at turbulence, analyze pooling regions and use appropriate shape changes – or changed seating positions – to try to minimize resistance.” A final test before the Olympic Games showed that the aerodynamic measures achieved a reduction in air resistance of up to six percent. In theory, this should make the sleds a tenth of a second faster per run.
However, Germany will face stiff competition from Team USA, which is also using composites for its bobsleds. Last week, Solvay and deBotech announced their partnership with USA Bobsled and Skeleton. Solvay is one of the team’s technology partners and suppliers of advanced carbon fiber composite materials. The company’s prepregs are being developed to offer maximum strength while remaining lightweight, and offers the ability to create distinctive complex shapes, giving performance equipment high aerodynamic efficiency. deBotech, Solvay’s long-standing customer and USA Bobsled and Skeleton’s preferred carbon fiber manufacturer, has been a team partner for 15 years and the team’s “Night Train 2” bobsled in 2014.