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The highly specialised expertise required to run a Grand Prix sports car such as data analysis, simulation and what McLaren refers to as “decision support,” are elements that businesses across the world can use to prosper.
McLaren set up a company in 2009 called McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT), to apply the knowledge acquired over many years of Grand Prix racing and use it to fulfill other projects. We take a look below at some of the pioneering projects led by the MAT team which are currently being applied to everyday life:
McLaren created a data-logging device for pursuit cyclists who race a single-speed bike around a velodrome. The device is mounted under the bicycle seat and sends information to the coach on torque, speed, power and tilt of bikes on turns. McLaren programmers also wrote software that can plot data as it comes in against team targets, past runs and competitors’ results – a job that used to take analysts 3 weeks to accomplish can now be recorded automatically as cyclists go along. Similarly, working with the English national rugby team, McLaren engineers were able to take data from sensors attached to players to obtain information such as how tired a player was and whether this made him more susceptible to injury.
GSK, a science-led global health company, brought in MAT to improve the efficiency of a toothpaste plant’s production line at a factory in Maidenhead. The work McLaren carried out focused on the changeover and when the production line was stopped to change toothpaste flavours. The process was treated in a similar way to a pit stop and McLaren’s consultants used video analysis to refine each team member’s roles and movements, to create a more efficient seven-step preparation method, which resulted in average changeover times being reduced by 24 minutes, a reduction that GSK calculated as 7 million more tubes of toothpaste being produced a year.
Major Oil & Gas Exploration
McLaren has worked with major oil and gas exploration companies in the North Sea to develop a data analysis and graphics program for drill operators. Under seas drills cost thousands of pounds to run every day, so it is of high importance for companies to avoid any delays or, more importantly, errors which could result in natural disasters. Drilling into the bottom of the sea is a tricky process which requires the drill operator to adjust the speed at which the drill rotates, the pressure its driven into the ground and the pace at which it clears out rubble. If an error is made, the drill can stall or vibrate around what can be a 10-mile-long drill chain. McLaren was brought in to record information coming up from sensors on the drill to produce up to date recommendations of how the operator should proceed.
Air travel is an incredibly complex procedure where a great deal of coordination and planning is required in order to bring planes in safely. Heathrow Airport has the challenge of being one of the busiest airports in the world, yet with only two runways to guide aircraft in, and flight restrictions for most flights to between 6am and 11pm, it proves a tremendous challenge for air traffic control. As a result, NATS formed a partnership with McLaren to create a better scheduling system. The companies created a software tool that allowed Heathrow’s Runway Scheduling Limits Committee to simulate the effects on global air traffic of sudden changes in climate such as blizzards and thick fog, to enable the airport to plan better for delays, and as a result, increase capacity.
Peter Van Manen, who was head of McLaren’s electronics division in 2009, and Heather Duncan, an intensive care doctor at Birmingham Children’s hospital, met at a medical conference where Van Manen gave a speech on what doctors could learn from car racing. The two pioneers now work together, to try to figure out ways to monitor very sick children. Patients in intensive care units already have their heart rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure measured, but Duncan and Van Manen are currently in the process of testing and refining software that could spot worrying trends in those indicators hours before they become critical conditions. For example, if a monitor could tell medical staff a patient was going to cardiac arrest in 3 hours time, there may be time for staff to try to fix the problem before the body gives up.
McLaren can always go back to just racing and selling cars, but for now we’re thankful that, thanks to the pioneering work of its engineers, the company continues to work hard to make the world a better place to be. Good luck this weekend Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button!