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Express delivery: inside the Bloodhound supply chain

17 Apr 2012

Engineers and suppliers are uniting in the effort to make Bloodhound a reality.

Around the country, something big is starting to stir. Painstakingly crafted 3D designs are beginning to take real form; carefully researched components are arriving at test benches; and fuel and lubricants are starting to flow. Engineers are turning the much-simulated shape of Bloodhound SSC, the vehicle that will aim to surpass a thousand miles an hour in South Africa’s Hakskeen Pan desert in 2014, into a reality, and the project’s headquarters - the riverside industrial unit in Bristol known as the Doghouse - is getting ready to receive its long-awaited resident.

Like every engineering project, Bloodhound is a collaboration; between engineers of different disciplines and with different backgrounds, but perhaps most of all between the core team, which is led by chief engineer Mark Chapman, and more than 200 suppliers. However, in many ways the project is unique: there is only a single product, very few spare parts, and the relationship between client and supplier is driven by mutual publicity rather than the more common commercial considerations.

Putting together a supply chain for this project was a tough challenge, said Conor La Grue, Bloodhound’s engineering lead and supply chain manager. On the one hand, the draw of being involved in a high-profile project with such a tantalising, attention-grabbing goal and where publicity is guaranteed was a powerful one. On the other, the engineering demands of making a car that can go almost 30 per cent faster than anything that’s ever travelled on land are considerable. The suppliers would need to be a select bunch.

Early on, the team was focused on the design of the car. ‘You can’t design without tools, so very early on we had a partnership with Siemens and Unigraphics software, and also with Intel; they provided us with a multi-million dollar solution for CFD stations and infrastructure, which allowed our designers to work,’ La Grue said.
The focus then shifted to finding organisations that would be able to build Bloodhound’s primary structure - the chassis, body, supporting structure for the jet engine and hybrid rocket that will propel the vehicle, and the wheels. ‘In the first year of the project [2008], we had something like 200 meetings and covered an awful lot of miles trying to find those key partners,’ La Grue said. ‘They had to be the right kind of people to meet our core engineering needs, which are absolutely paramount. And doing that during the deepest recession in living memory was no small challenge either.’

Although Richard Noble has been involved in two previous land speed record projects - Thrust 2 in 1983, which he drove himself, and Thrust SSC in 1997, the current record holder at 763mph - the engineering demands of Bloodhound meant that the team had to start from scratch. Only Noble himself, the driver of Thrust SSC, Andy Green, and chief aerodynamicist Ron Ayers came over from the Thrust SSC team. ‘It’s really a new generation of car, with very little in common, technically, with Thrust SSC,’ La Grue said. ‘The level of technology brought to bear on the 1,000mph target is a leap further on again, so we had to start from scratch. When I came on board in August 2008, we had a list of maybe 65 suppliers, and they were all for some of the test rigs, nothing for the car itself.’

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(Article taken from The Engineer - www.theengineer.co.uk)

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