The Application of 3D Printed High-Performance Polymers in Motorsport and Formula One
Formula One (F1) and Motorsport Teams exploit 3D printing technology for both the development process and directly for vehicle components. Many 3D printed components are used for the aerodynamic model that is fundamental to the performance development process undertaken in the wind-tunnel. However, this article will focus on the 3D printed components used on the race car itself.
F1 and motorsport teams are well known for exploiting materials to produce lightweight components and structures. They are always quick to exploit new technologies. 3D printed polymer components have been used for many years and laser sintered metallic parts are now also being used. The focus here is on the use of engineering polymer materials, the scope of which has increased as materials and manufacturing techniques have developed.
Carbon fibre composites provide high strength and light weight. F1 teams attempt to use them in the construction of as many vehicle components as possible to minimise vehicle weight. However, there are limitations to this technology. Parts are labour intensive and time consuming to produce, because they require multiple steps involving design, tooling and mould production prior to manufacture of the final part. Some components are particularly difficult or impossible to produce because of their geometry. An alternative is to use 3D printed parts.
Because of the extreme time pressures in F1 and the very compressed development, design and manufacturing schedules, there is often not time to produce carbon fibre composite components for the start of the test and race season. 3D printed components are particularly useful during this time, when they are used for many components that may latterly be substituted for carbon composite versions when time allows.
Examples of these components include bracketry for supporting pipework and electrical components, plus small aerodynamic components such as winglets. There are many bracket type components on a race car that play an important part in ensuring the reliability of the different sub-systems. Because of their number and often complex geometry, resulting from tight packaging constraints, 3D printing is ideally suited to their production. 3D printing also allows aerodynamic components to be introduced to the car in the minimum time-frame, hence gaining a performance advantage as early as possible.
The next article will the explore the ways ducting and pipework applications can be made in lengthy and complex shapes due to tool-less manufacturing with 3D printed processes.
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