The history and use of 3D printing in Formula 1
Additive manufacturing | Formula 1 | Automotive | Advanced digital manufacturing
Formula 1 is the most dynamic fast pace automotive environment where advanced technologies can really make the difference. To manufacture and tune the car to achieve the greatest performance can really separate the win from the loss.
When a design team is under pressure to produce a new engineering design then 3D printing is coming handy allowing the engineers to use additive manufacturing technology for prototyping and testing assisting in making quick engineering judgements. For Formula 1 teams, geometry as well as composite material selection play vital role to the car’s performance.
3D printing in Formula 1
Back in 2017, the expert in additive manufacturing for Renault Formula 1 team, Pat Warner observed significant advantages in using this technology in various applications since 1998 when they purchased their first SLA 3D printer. The last few years they manufacture their own castings for structural titanium components such as gearbox casing.
Since then, even more Formula 1 teams realized the benefits of the technology and proceeded to relevant investment into additive manufacturing technologies.
McLaren F1 team uses Stratasys 3D printer since 2017 for quick turnaround of weekend designs for urgent small modifications such as front and rear wings and other body details that could benefit the team in terms of time against their rivals. Using fused deposition modelling (FDM) and PolyJet technologies they can accommodate the need for both prototype components or race-ready parts.
In a discussion back in 2018, Richard Braby, team leader advanced digital manufacturing (ADM) at Williams Formula 1, stated “If you take a single component that you would generally traditionally make as a composite part, you’d have to go through design, manufacture of the pattern, manufacture of the mould and manufacture of the actual part, which is four steps. In using additive manufacturing (AM) you go straight from the design into manufacture – straight to test – so you’re cutting out a lot of time and a lot of manpower.”
Just 2 years ago, Renault claimed that each of the two formula 1 cars had about 100 3D printed parts (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dc4SE3yP8YU&ab_channel=3DSystems). Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) are the two most common additive manufacturing methods in Formula 1 used to produce functional parts. Formula 1 teams tend to metal 3D print exhausts, engine parts and suspensions. The main advancements their teams experience are the production speed of the parts and the short design development life cycle from the sketch of a part to the actual manufacturing of a whole variety of versions of the designed component.
Recently it became known that Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen doubled the number of 3D printed parts in its Formula 1 car to improve performance prior the 2021 World Championship. The team managed to manufacture lightweight parts in their MetalFAB1 3D printer, at a fraction of the cost via conventional manufacturing methods. They announced that the previous season’s car had a total of 149 3D printed parts while this year’s C41 will have 304! The engineers produced components mainly made of AISi10Mg and Scalmalloy (AluminumMagnesium Alloy).
Racing Point F1 Team has the giant 3D Systems as an official supplier to access additive manufacturing technologies and its benefits. Scuderia Ferrari uses 3D printing technology for their engine development including new steel alloy pistons against aluminum. Aston Martin Red Bull Racing manufacture prototype parts followed by test in their wind tunnel facility. Scuderia Toro Rosso partnered with RDS, to improve their production approach including bCFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer) molding and 3D printing technologies. HAAS F1 Team had organized a team to investigate, design and develop 3D printed parts respectively.
In a sport as competitive as Formula 1, where the win from loss could be a matter of a fraction of a second, F1 teams turn their focus to additive manufacturing methodologies to gain race advantages. New composite sophisticated materials, improved designs, optimized and lightweight parts combined with 3D printing appear to be the only way forward and the key component in the fast-paced world of Formula 1
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