Dome, one of Japan's most renowned race car builders, is a company that's synonymous with high-quality and innovation. During a comprehensive tour of Dome, we saw first hand some of their latest projects.
Dome, situated in Shiga Prefecture less than an hour south from Nagoya, has been around for 24 years. Minoru Hayashi, founder and president, built his first race car over 36 years ago and turned his passion into a successful business. Styling, engineering designs, prototyping, testing, creating and assembling is all taken care of under one roof. In 2000 wind tunnel testing was added to this long list as the "Dome Tunnel" was built and is one of the most-used facilities in Japan. In fact during our tour, a Japanese car manufacturer was testing a soon-to-be-released sports car. Their wind tunnel is so popular that they rarely get a chance to use it, because it's booked most of the year!
In 2001 Dome Carbon Magic was set up, the side of operations which now takes up the majority of work for the company. Carbon fiber is big business in motorsports and Dome is the leader in Japan. We were walked through the various steps of carbon-fiber parts production. First up, the engineers in the CAD office take care of the design process using CATIA V5, state- of-the-art software. Here the molds for the carbon parts need to be designed and then cut out by huge modeling machines. Our guide explained that the molds are one of the reasons carbon-fiber production is so expensive especially since they begin to deteriorate after being used 40 times. Every time a mold has to be reused it requires a thorough cleaning and scraping to ensure that it has a smooth surface, a process that takes many man-hours.
The next step is completed in the two large lay-up rooms. Here skilled craftsmen meticulously lay down the carbon fabrics into the molds and start adding the resins that will help to shape the carbon around every nook and cranny of the molds. Carbon-fiber layers and the actual angles they are laid upon each other varies to give more or less strength, depending on the part being made. Dome takes care of building the F3 monocoque chassis, which requires an enormous amount of work as they need to absorb an impressive amount of force in high-speed impacts.
Even testing is taken care of in-house. We were shown a large press machine that has the job of crushing carbon parts so the engineers can make sure they're working. This step allows for fine-tuning the whole building process to guarantee a high-quality product. Once the carbon fiber and resins have been applied to the molds they're wrapped and vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag and taken to one of the four auto calves Dome has at its disposal. Here the carbon is pressure-cooked and baked for a specific time, temperature and time is dependent on the actual part. Once this process is complete, the molds are taken apart and the carbon fiber is removed. The next step is to cut the excess material, a procedure, which can be done either by hand or by advanced five-axis water-jet cutting machines. Dome even takes care of painting in-house so if carbon body parts need to be painted they're prepped and sprayed.
Over the last nine years Dome has been involved in the Super GT championship handling the engineering and team management of the Takata-Dome Honda NSX and the ARTA Honda NSX teams. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse of both cars being built and prepared before they needed to be shipped off to Malaysia for the next round of Super GT. Next to the Super GT cars, a Japanese F3 car was in the early steps of assembly. While touring the carbon-fiber production side of the factory we spotted a new JDM Civic Type-R being fitted with a full dry-carbon front bumper. We were told this is a limited-edition Mugen model that will soon go on sale in Japan. It packs a host of carbon parts including the hood and rear spoiler and has been modified to produce more power.
And it isn't just four-wheel stuff Dome is involved in, they try to push their engineering skills to a wide range of products from lightweight carbon cello and violin cases to carbon wheelchairs and even briefcases! They are trying to appeal to a broader customer base and lower production costs. One recent step is the opening of a new factory in Thailand called Dome Composites Thailand. With the lower production costs available in Thailand, Dome hopes to get more customers interested in carbon production, while offering the same quality as the parts built in Japan.
The final step of our Dome tour involved taking a look at their small-car collection. On the inside section of the building, housing the wind tunnel, a selection of historical Dome cars are on display. Starting with the first-ever Dome car the "Zero," built from 1978 all the way to 1989, the Jiotto-designed "Caspita" and the F107 Formula Dream racer. Next, Dome will try to get an opportunity to enter Formula 1 as well as participating in Le Mans again. For a company with only a 24-year history, Dome has come a very long way. Hayashi-san has proven that if you have enough passion you can use it to create a successful business. Dome tries to be part of a large variety of projects and has been trying hard to promote composite material use by lowering production costs.