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Drive for innovation: the role of 3D printing in Formula 1

E&T spoke with US-based company 3D Systems about its partnership with the Formula One (F1) team Alpine and the role that 3D printing plays in driving innovation and sustainability in world-renowned motorsport.

The cars raced in Formula 1 are engineering marvels fueled by relentless innovation. Teams work tirelessly to achieve and beat an ever-increasing standard of peak performance and the Alpine F1 Team is no exception.

In between seasons, teams work with Alpine (formally known as Renault Sport) to design and build a new car that responds to changes in rules set by motor sport’s governing body, the FIA.

This period paves the way for the natural research and development cycle aimed at improving automotive performance. Once the racing season begins, teams may need to make technical changes to their cars every race weekend.

Each race presents engineers with their own architectural, climate and asphalt challenges, ranging from purpose-built circuits to bumpy and winding streets.

As the team prepares for the unique challenges of each track and uses the little downtime it has between races to continue working on its cars and equipment, Alpine believes that 3D printing can add value to this process.

The team needs new components on every track and the benefits of additive manufacturing are becoming increasingly relevant. “The Alpine team tunes parts for different tracks and their attributes,” said Kevin Buggery of 3D Systems.

“This is why rapid iterations and tests must be performed throughout the sequence.” In order to respond to these constant changes and to achieve performance targets, it is imperative that continuous research into new technologies is carried out and that contributions from technical partners continue to play a role in helping the teams to achieve faster, lighter and stronger make cars.

Engineers at Alpine have leveraged a variety of 3D printing technologies and expertise from the 3D Systems company to enable continuous innovation and collaboration.

Buggery, 3D Systems Transport and Motorsports Segment Leader, spoke to E&T about the company’s partnership with the Alpine F1 Team.

“One thing that was great about the collaboration is the application engineers, the expert consultants, and so on, across multiple industries, and they really combine them to create a comprehensive workflow,” he explains.

All the way from the design aspects to the construction preparation, the actual printing itself and then all the knowledge and applications needed to develop that into a solution.” Buggery added that the company sees itself as a technology partner for Alpine:

“Working with them has allowed us to leverage all new types of technologies and apply that application consulting knowledge to the industry we’ve built in partnership with F1, and motorsport. in general. has helped us build in these advanced applications to drive innovation faster. “

Alpine, based in Oxfordshire, has been using 3D Systems technologies in its operations since 1998. As an early adopter of 3D printing for rapid prototyping, a method that resulted in the invention of additive manufacturing (AM), Alpine has developed the use of 3D printing.

printers enabled for early applications such as verification of function and fit design and molds and fixings – a manufacturing stack that includes additive manufacturing that is more readily available, more cost-effective and performance-oriented – for accurate assembly.

As the partnership has grown over the years, 3D Systems application engineers have helped the Alpine team understand and use the available materials and methodologies. The collaboration also allowed the team’s cars to be tested in the wind tunnel facility.

It has also helped create new innovations in automotive parts through investment casting 3D printing, which are digital processes, and AM technologies ready to save time and costs in production workflows and explorations in direct metal printing (DMP).

Motorsport teams such as Alpine are constantly changing, testing, evaluating and refining their cars on and off the race tracks. This results in a series of opportunities for the team to learn from past mistakes, either in the wind tunnel or on the track.

“With each new application, they advance science and we learn to understand the basics,” Baughey says. “We also try to make the process efficient and effective so that we can replicate it and put the parts into production.”

As part of the partnership with 3D Systems, the Alpine F1 team has set up a high-productivity Additive Manufacturing Center at their engineering center in Enstone, Oxfordshire.

The production fleet feeds its wind tunnel program with up to 150 parts per day, printed with performance material specially developed for this application. Buggery also emphasized that the Alpine team produces the associated race car surfaces using other methods.

“The materials developed and produced for this application are strongly influenced by the wind tunnel application,” explains Buggery. “The materials and processes they [Alpine] would use without them would be composite materials, but produced by more traditional means, without the rapid iteration and fine detail / surface required to optimize the testing process and fidelity of results.”

The machines used at the center include stereolithography (SLA) printers and selective laser sintering machines (SLS). Such technologies use materials from the company’s Accura range to build molds and fixtures, liquid flow installations and investment casting cartridges.

It also aids in wind tunnel construction and supplies Dura Form PA (a durable thermoplastic) and Dura Form GF (a glass-filled engineering plastic) for parts used on the car itself, such as electrical boxes and cooling ducts.

Motorsport engineers have long proven that rapid prototyping 3D printing is a useful tool in a sport where aerodynamic surface panels require tightly packaged and limited internal racing car components.

When Alpine aerodynamics saw the complexity of the components that 3D Systems machines could produce, they saw the potential of 3D printing technology for testing fit and function.

With this realization, the use of 3D technology grew, gradually expanding from rapid prototyping to the fabrication of wind tunnel models.

3D Systems are testing multiple design iterations of a specific part in the Alpine F1 Team’s wind tunnel to investigate and improve its aerodynamic performance.

In terms of productivity and efficiency, 3D printing has also enabled the team to better respond to the challenges that arise in constantly new racing environments.

Using SLA and SLS, 3D Systems technologies can produce complex molds and fixtures, fluid flow installations and auto parts in hours instead of weeks, making 3D technologies ideal for the logistics challenges of F1 racing.

In addition to the large quantities of parts that have been tested in the wind tunnel, Alpine directly builds various racing car parts. 3D Systems technologies enable the team to develop an effective new manufacturing process, reducing cycle times as well as costs.

“Additive solutions allowed the Alpine team to save costs and time in producing parts for the cars. It’s fundamental to reduce the time it takes for parts to pass through a workflow and get them quickly on schedule week after week, ”explains Buggery.

“From a technical point of view, it could also help to reduce design constraints and increase degrees of freedom for designers and engineers.”

3D printing has helped the team create lighter parts that increase speed and fuel efficiency, and accurate and informative flow tests for better engine performance and less wear.

“The materials and geometry used dictate weight and performance,” says Buggery. “The key is to understand the shape that delivers the best performance while minimizing weight.

” About which parts the team can and cannot print for such applications, Buggery says that the properties of these materials determine this: “The most important decision point is whether the end material can withstand the” use “conditions.

The printing technology used (e.g. SLA, SLS, DMP etc) can also drive this and has been a positive point for 3D systems as we have a wide portfolio of both technologies and materials that can be used for many applications. “

Alpine and 3D Systems are also looking to become more sustainable, following motor sport’s 2019 announcement of its ambitious sustainability plan to have a zero net carbon footprint by 2030.

At the time of the announcement, Jean Todt, president of the FIA, welcomed the initiative. “Our commitment to global environmental protection is critical,” said Todt. “Not only is it very encouraging for the future of motorsport, but it can also have major benefits for society as a whole.

” Buggery added, “There is a strong drive for sustainability in the sport and I think our partnership with Alpine is perfectly in line with the vision that the team and other teams have for this initiative.

But when you think about the progress F1 is bringing to the table in general, by creating the lightest, best performing capacity for the engine’s power, to improve its ability to perform, as well as its ability to stay on track using the least amount of energy it can, all are still related to sustainability. “

Buggery says 3D Systems is pleased to continue their relationship with Alpine, developing parts and driving innovation that applies not only to F1 cars, but also in other sectors such as healthcare, consumer car and aerospace.

“With many technological innovations already available, this can easily translate into unique designs and iterations regardless of the industry,” he concludes.

“With additive manufacturing, manufacturers can keep that window open as they develop the science and product throughout their lifecycle.”