At the heart of every drag racing car is a powerful engine, and at the heart of hundreds of championship racing engines over the past 30 years is legendary driver and manufacturer Brad Anderson. He had a hands-on approach to his Alcohol Funny Cars, tweaking valves, rocker arms, and cylinder heads to drop extra tenths of seconds down quarter-mile drag strips.
Anderson gave up the driver’s seat in 1991 to launch Brad Anderson Enterprises (BAE), Ontario, CA, manufacturing high-quality motorsport racing engines and components, specializing in aluminum engine blocks and cylinder heads. Throughout the 1980s, it was common to find 12 or more drag racers within 16-car NHRA fields running Brad Anderson Enterprises cylinder heads.
In an internal combustion engine, cylinder heads are usually made of cast iron or aluminum. Iron cylinder heads are easier and less expensive to produce, but they are heavier than aluminum heads, and in a race car, weight is everything. BAE cylinder heads are made from high-grade aluminum and pricing starts at $7,700. BAE aluminum engine block prices start at $8,500.
BAE manufactures engine components on a fleet of CNC machines powered by Mastercam® CAD/CAM software with the Port Expert add-on, facilitating toolpath generation for CNC cylinder head porting. They are the software components that make BAE racing components kings of the quarter mile.
“We have 15 machines right now,” said Robert Clark, BAE CNC programmer/machinist. The company’s manufacturing center includes two Boston 5-axis verticals; a Haas EC-500; a 4-axis Mazak INTEGREX lathe with dual spindles; a Mori Seiki lathe; three large Mazak horizontal machining centers for cylinder heads, blocks, manifolds, and billet valve covers; Newen valve-seat cutting machines; a new Haas VF6 machining center; two Rottler surfacing machines for block finish work and repair; two Leblond 4-axis vertical machining centers; a Fadal 4020 4-axis vertical machining center; and a Deckel Maho DMG MORI horizontal machining center.
“Mastercam is used for everything from roughing and finishing the blocks to roughing and finishing the heads, all lathe work—everything,” said Clark.
CAD/CAM software helps BAE turn out the high-demand parts and keep air cuts to a minimum. Every machinist knows that cutting air is costly. Shaving off production time has been as satisfying as creating flying chips of aluminum.
“The CAD/CAM software just makes everything easier,” Clark said. “The big machines all run unmanned. So, once you load your parts, you press the go button and walk away until the job is done. A particular rocker arm we manufacture used to take almost 55 minutes. I knocked it down to 32 minutes just by utilizing the tools available within Mastercam, like the stock model toolpath option. That itself will eliminate all your air cuts.”
Mastercam Port Expert is especially helpful in the production of aluminum cylinder heads for racing engines, he added. It is a speedy and simple-to-use software for creating multiaxis toolpaths within cylinder head ports like the ones BAE produces. Port Expert creates an accurate, efficient porting motion on surfaces or solid body data, minimizing unnecessary shimmy and motion at the machine, which gives Clark a highly efficient toolpath with superior finish quality. The software enables Clark to limit toolpath motion to either end of a port, or, if the job demands it, allowed inside both ends of a port, meeting in the middle. When cutting from both ends of a port, the software creates an integrated link move between the cuts and a seamless transition where the two cuts meet, creating finishing motion that runs parallel to the flow or perpendicular, depending on the job.
“That’s a major timesaver,” Clark said. “We do a lot of cylinder heads and a lot of head porting. Just the fact that you can select multiple surfaces now instead of it just having to being a single surface is a huge design upgrade.”
According to Clark, the CAD/CAM add-on saves a significant amount of time because it eliminates the need to re-loft surfaces. The area does not have to be a single surface anymore and the automatic spine function can save hours of production time because trying to create tool axis control, especially on a 5-axis port, could require a lot of time and trial and error.
“A couple of clicks of the button and the job is done,” he added. “The automatic spine is a great addition. Port Expert lets you select multiple surfaces, so if you have a spring pad section that needs additional material, you can just offset that surface and you don’t have to shoot a bunch of lines through it and re-loft it into a single surface—it can be multiple. The last time I machined a single port, the automatic spine feature saved hours of production time.”
Mastercam enables machinists to do a lot with a single click. Clark has his own favorite clicks, like the one he used for a motorcycle engine design.
“I was porting some motorcycle cylinder heads for a customer,” he said. “I put the sample head with ports to be reverse engineered on the granite table and used our Master 3D Gage CMM arm to scrub the ports. I got all that data, brought it into the software, made a solid out if it, and that was it.”
Dynamic OptiRough in Mastercam 2022 enables a programmer to create safe, powerful, and efficient programs for parts they are machining, applying optimized cutting motion to any set of geometry using Dynamic Motion. When feeds, speeds, and angles are not optimized, tools heat up and their protective coatings are degraded. Too much heat causes broken tools, like endmills that lose their ability to cleanly shear material such as the aluminum Clark uses at BAE. The result is damaged tools, ruined stock material, and wasted time.
Dynamic Motion consistently monitors the tool and the stock material and dynamically adjusts toolpath motion so tools last longer. Mastercam uses proprietary algorithms to dynamically adjust the tool motion and feed rates to keep cutting conditions optimized, resulting in increased tool life, greater machining efficiency, and maximum material removal.
“Everything uses Dynamic Motion, from the engine blocks to the cylinder head, to the manifolds—everything,” Clark said. “Tools that weren’t lasting long now last for the whole job. There’s a particular Indexable mill we use on some 4340 material, and those inserts were just getting shredded apart. So, I made some changes, and it runs through a 100-part run with no problem now. It actually sped up the manufacturing process.”
Today’s NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Cars can blaze down the quarter mile strip in as little as 5.3 seconds at more than 270 miles per hour. Tenths and even hundredths of seconds can make the difference between victory and defeat and drivers look for an edge anywhere they can find one. For many, that has been a high-powered engine from Brad Anderson Enterprises. For BAE, the edge is CAD/CAM software.
Photos & Article provided by
Gorman Pompili Communications