Human kind has always been obsessed with speed, from time immemorial. Naturally, when cars came into being there was almost immediately a need for racing them. For more than a century, races have pretty much driven the innovation in building faster and more durable cars. At the racing track, even one tenth of a second can give a car valuable competitive edge. Hence, mechanics and engineers give their all just to give cars that added advantage. It is therefore, understandable that there is always a certain push for innovation in racing.
The amazing thing about rapid prototyping and 3D printing technology is that these methods seem to find their way into almost everything. From aerospace to medical science, 3D printing has been of immense benefit almost everywhere, saving time, efforts and finances to give an overall better outcome. By now, it is probably no surprise that 3D printing would make its way into the fast paced world of racing cars too. This is why Team Penske has recently signed a deal with 3D printing giant Stratasys at the beginning of the year in order to get services and technical support.
Penske seems to be making the most of this partnership of 3D printing in the following ways.
Testing with Rapid Prototyping
Perhaps the most common and the earliest use of 3D printing was rapid prototyping. Engineers relied on rapid prototyping in order to test out the prototypes of the designs and parts in order to test them easily. Penske’s Director of Aerospace and Automotive, Jim Vurpillat stresses the importance of testing in race teams. According to him, race teams love testing and rapid prototyping has allowed them to try out multiple parts in order to reach perfection.
When 3D printing is used for rapid prototyping at race teams like Penske, the overall impact is faster iteration and testing of the designs, Vurpillat further says. This improved speed is one of the hidden advantages of 3D printing. Engineers on race teams are forever trying to get an edge of another one tenth of a second. With rapid prototyping, multiple iterations can be done. Penske wants them to have open options to simulate, try, and see how the parts work, make changes in design and do as much tweaking as necessary. It is a great improvement in the part development cycle.
Making Car Parts
Not only is 3D printing used for making prototypes by Team Penske, it is also used for creating internal car parts as well. Vurpillat says that IndyCars tend to use a lot of composite materials. The team has highly durable and high strength thermoplastics which are totally in line with extreme motorsports. Hence, the next time we see an IndyCar, we know for sure that it features 3D printed parts on its internal makeup.
Another great advantage of 3D printing for races lies in making tools for servicing and building of the cars. Racing tools are almost always highly specialized or extremely complex, which need the precision and customization of 3D printing as opposed to traditional methods of manufacturing. Vurpillat prefers printing of the tool instead of traditional manufacturing methods or tooling. Printing gets things done faster and quicker, as well as giving the tools improved capabilities. Since these tools have extremely complex geometries, 3D printing is ideal for manufacturing them.
An example of such an improvement is seen while refueling the racing cars. The fuel lines used for racecars are quite large and heavy. Hence, Stratasys collaborated with Team Penske in order to develop a tool which would reduce the weight of the hose’s handle significantly. After the project was successful, the team now uses it in order to make refueling much faster and more efficient during the crucial moments of a race.
From racing track to the industry
Stratasys has been benefitted immensely with its technical partnership with Team Penske. While the latter has had an advantage of faster, better cars on race day; Stratasys has been benefitted in a sense that the company has devised plans to bring forward more 3D printing and rapid prototyping into the industry.
Vurpillat comments that most partnerships in motorsports have marketing as their main focus. However, their partnership with Stratasys was rooted deeply in the technical benefits that it brought. For Team Penske, this is a way to accelerate applications and technology towards newer goals. This partnership has been unlike anything else in the past, and both parties seem very happy with the end results that they are getting from it. We can definitely hope that more and more 3D printing happens on race tracks and it can bring us closer to getting 3D printed cars manufactured for the customers outside of motorsports.
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