Rapid Prototyping in the Fastest Vehicles in the World

Racing in Style with Rapid Prototyping

 

For many businesses, rapid prototyping has become an essential part of their development cycle. These days, manufacturers are looking to make 3d printing technologies faster. Whether printing in-house prototypes or with the aid of a rapid prototyping company, additive manufacturing can significantly reduce the time required for a product to be ready for inspection. Thanks to 3d printing, F1 racing is moving much faster; car parts are made ready for the rally in a fraction of the original time.

Each second saved from a lap is a leap towards victory for research teams, thus leading to actual wins at the race track. Companies such as Lotus F1 Team, Red Bull Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing are already reaping the benefits of additive manufacturing to improve the performance of their race cars. F1 design teams are employing additive manufacturing in order to produce new rapid prototype parts. These are then tested at 60% scaled models of actual cars, which are driven in a wind tunnel. Traditional manufacturing processes are no match for the accuracy, quality and of course, price, of 3d printed components. Speed is an important factor to consider too.

Formula 1 Prototyping Success

Gone are the days of painstakingly manufacturing new tools for each prototype. The use of additive manufacturing reduces turnaround time from concept drafting to prototyping, which allows the designers to build multiple prototypes at the same time. Research teams perform rapid prototyping and testing of the car parts, also taking into consideration the effect of the track layout, weather conditions, humidity etc. on specific designs. Experts are hopeful that by the end of the year, rapid prototyping will be a second quicker per lap than the current time required. In F1 racing, the saving of this time is invaluable. The most cost effective way to get performance from cars is aerodynamics. Aero development is now driven by 3d systems and technologies more than ever.

Even though most researchers mainly focus on the use of additive manufacturing for only prototyping purposes, they are thinking ahead for the production of actual car parts. In fact, 3d printing technologies have already advanced to a point that it is used in printing out actual cars. However, it remains a challenge as racing vehicles need twice the speed, performance and endurance.
At Joe Gibbs Racing, engineers are given a little over two days to diagnose, solve and implement a solution to problems before the car is ready for the next race. This mammoth task is performed by creating functional prototypes, concept models, end user parts and manufacturing tools in just a few hours. JGR has sped from conceptual modeling to production, leading to its three championships. Today at the NASCAR scene, it has easily become one of the most competitive teams.

It might take a while before racing teams can print new parts at the racing track for replacements, but that day is not too far. Instead of bringing in sensitive equipment to the tracks every time, the crew could simply fit the required part, print it out and attach it to the car as it comes in for repairs.

Rapid Prototyping at Rallies

rally car rapid prototyping

Rallying has to do more with endurance than speed. Lasting for three to four days and covering around four hundred kilometers, rally events are held in the most testing terrains on earth, such as gravel roads, muddy forest tracks and even icy conditions. Added to these circumstances is the duration of the season. The season begins in January and is over by the end of November, which does not allow for a lot of off season preparation time for the vehicles. This is where additive manufacturing comes into play. Instead of waiting weeks to get a prototype, 3d printing can produce those parts in a matter of hours. This is especially necessary for conversion of stock vehicles into rally-ready cars.

Over at Prodrive, rally cars are produced from the stock of Mini Countryman Cooper S by leveraging additive manufacturing technology. Almost every part of the Mini Cooper is either replaced or modified to obtain the car ready for the rallying season. However, one look at the car will not state what the actual modifications were. The only part that is left alone is the front-door stainless steel skin; even the rear door is printed out of carbon. Some portions of the door handles and the trim are carried over as well. Everything else is modified almost undetectably.

Extensive design modification like these calls for really intense preparation for the job. The research team first produces a CAD version of what they envision the finished product would look like. After that, a prototype is created to give a real hands-on experience. Prodrive, while looking for a 3d printer that can produce robust parts, uses a StratasysDimension 1200 es in this case. Using the additive manufactured parts in the process, they discovered some benefits that were completely uncalled for. Compared to the parts produced through a standard tooling procedure, 3d printed prototype parts were better fitted to the cars. Not just that, if a prototype is accidentally dropped, it remains as good as new. With this experience, Prodrive began to use the additive manufactured parts directly onto the rally cars. The modified Minis they currently produce contain eighteen different 3d printed parts, which includes the display of the driver. The cost was significantly reduced when the driver display too was 3d printed. The composite version cost around $2800 for materials and tooling, while the additive manufactured display cost only seventy dollars.

From these success stories, it’s clear that 3d printing can be a true game changer on the race track. As more and more industries embrace 3D printing, corporations will discover a variety of new uses for this technology. Green light go, indeed!

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