Additive manufacturing (AM) has long enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with motorsport, as demonstrated in the volume of use case studies that drop into the TCT Mag editorial team inbox. It continues to flourish. One helps the other to save time, money, and stress, the other helps to push boundaries and drive innovation in an emerging technology.

Pat Warner, Renault Sport Formula 1’s Digital Manufacturing Manager, has been involved in F1 for 30 years, and AM nearly 20 thanks to a partnership with 3D Systems. While he claims every day of his career has been different to the last, for two-thirds of it, AM technology has been a permanent fixture.

When Renault first got hold of a 3D printing system, Warner says they didn’t know what to do with it, and when they did find an application, the materials would let it down: ‘Parts moved, were broken easily, and massively hygroscopic,’ he remembers. Fast forward 20 years and Warner’s team is applying AM in several areas in the manufacture of their race cars.

Rival-on-the-track, McLaren has allegiances with Stratasys. As Tim Schniepp, Stratasys’ Senior Director of Composite Solutions, refers to in this issue’s cover story, there are many benefits to be taken advantage of for F1 teams, not least in the 3D printing of tooling applications. For Warner and 3D Systems, it’s old news.

“[Jigs and fixtures] were one of our first applications, albeit then the materials didn’t last quite as well,” he tells TCT. “It didn’t take much of a knock to send it flying off the bench, and they also cracked and moved with moisture and light. Things are a lot more stable now, SLA has developed a lot. We also have a large suite of SLS so we can mix and match where we need to and pick the right material for the right job, even use ceramic-filled material for extra stability at temperature.”

Exhibiting at the 3D Systems booth at TCT Show this year, the partners showcased a number of saddle jigs propping up the race car’s exhaust system. The jigs were printed in SLA – the metal ends of the exhaust printed using 3D Systems DMLS technology – and while typically not the simplest of parts to manufacture, harnessing 3D Systems’ technology has been a big help in the building of the jigs, and thus the making of the exhaust.

“Each segment [of the exhaust] is bent, placed in a jig, welded and the next segment is added with another jig, another jig, another jig,” Warner explains. “There’s quite an array of jigs to make one exhaust system. They’re quite complicated piece of welding, and every branch has to be exactly the same in its volume for engine tuning. Being able to make all the jigs in one piece at one time in one machine without having to take a piece of metal out and put another in is an obvious advantage to us and the materials are plenty good enough for that.”

                                                                The exhaust on the SLA 3D printed Jig

Before the 3D printing of the jigs, Renault F1 would rely on CNC machining, which would take a couple of days, or someone assembling the parts that were pre-machined or pre-cut, which would take the best part of a week. With 3D printing, 15 can be manufactured overnight. In an industry where decisions that will impact the race on Sunday are made as late as Thursday, the time saving is most welcome.

Similar time-reduction advantages are gained in the titanium casting of the car’s transmission housing. The pre-machined casting pattern weighs 20 kilograms and has walls of between 1mm and 1.5mm in thickness. It is made in Accura 60 QuickCast, printed in two parts – each print taking around 35 hours – and then assembled. 

“It has a significant job to do,” Warner emphasises. “It’s literally the rear of the car – the suspension comes off it, the rear wings hang off it, all the loads pass through that casting to the engine to the chassis. It’s an integral member of the chassis. It’s very thin in its wall, it’s very high strength, it’s very high detail, and we really couldn’t produce a casting of that detail without additive. At this point, there is nothing capable of making that directly in additive, and keep the strength, the detail, and the surface requirements that we have. It’s been a perfect fit for us.”

That also applies to Renault’s overall use of 3D printing. Looking back, Warner believes motorsport has contributed to the growth of additive manufacturing, and looking forward is sure the benefits will continue to be shared between the two industries. He concedes there’s still some way to go, but assesses improvements in all facets of the technology, and notes that the Renault automotive group keeps a keen eye on the Formula 1 team’s use of additive manufacturing.

                                                               The printed sacrificial model printed in two halves


                                                                              The resulting part from the foundry

Source:TCT Magazine