Innovation

3D printed parts give Honda's McLaren race cars an advantage at Grand Prix

A new partnership with Stratasys and McLaren Racing, one of the biggest Formula 1 race teams, is producing 3D-printed car parts. Here's what these parts can do to improve success in racing.


At the 2017 Grand Prix, race cars will be made out of something new: 3D printed parts.

For the first time, a partnership with Honda division McLaren Formula 1 Racing and 3D printing company Stratasys is bringing 3D printed car parts, that can be made on-demand, to the race track.

With advances in 3D printing including faster speeds and a greater variety of available materials, the technology will be used to produce car parts from the rubber-like material near electrical areas to the tough material on the exterior of the vehicle. It will also be used to make some of the most heat sensitive and important pieces of McLaren's new MCL32 race cars, which include hydraulic line brackets, radio harness fasteners, carbon fiber brake cooling ducts, and rear wing flaps.

To speed up the process, McLaren will have a Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D printer stationed at the track on racing days, in order to print on demand.

McLaren's race team is constantly monitoring performance of the race cars, making improvements every 15 minutes. Many cars, including Honda's race cars, use AI tools like IBM IoT for Automotive to gather information about every aspect of the car's behavior and stream it to the cloud in real time. Therefore, the speed of 3D printing is an important factor in the adoption of the tool for the race track. The race car's hydraulic line bracket, for instance, can be made in only four hours with the 3D printer—compared with a two-week timeframe needed for traditional manufacturing. 3D printing also allows for lighter-weight cars and greater freedom to quickly test materials.

"The ability to rapidly model, build and evaluate new components is an invaluable asset for any fast-moving and dynamic racing organisation," said Eric Boullier, racing director at McLaren Racing. "It has become clear that motorsport's reliance on rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing, and the ability to radically cut time to market, is increasing. Our partnership with Stratasys will not only increase our output in that area, but also allow us to dynamically explore and utilise the cutting-edge of Stratasys' new 3D printing innovations and solutions."

Although advanced materials used for 3D printing can lead to increased strength and robustness, there are still some limitations to 3D printed parts in vehicles, said Andy Middleton, president of Stratasys EMEA. The temperature, for instance, can impact 3D parts, he said. Every 3D printed piece has a thermal resistance, and if the temperature in a certain part of the car—the engine, for instance—rises above 300 to 400 degrees centigrade, it would not be suitable for a 3D part. However, "that will change in the future," said Middleton.

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Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D printer that McLaren uses at the race track.

Image: Stratasys

3D printing car parts could impact on the bottom line, as well. The speed of producing the car parts means that design decisions can be made days sooner than with previous manufacturing methods. The printers can also produce stronger and lighter parts, said Middleton, "which is extremely important in Formula 1." The process offers tremendous cost savings per part as well, he said.

This is not not the only place that 3D printing is being used in heavy, industrial machines. A partnership between Ford and Stratasys outlined in March 2016 will test 3D printed parts in automobiles. And the aircraft Airbus A350, for instance, uses many 3D printed parts within the cabin. However, there are only about 1,000 3D printed parts in an airplane that has more than 4 million parts. That will increase, however, Middleton said, "to 100,000 parts, as the material properties improve over time."

"This wasn't the case, two, three, four years ago," Middleton added.

Also see...

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Image: MacLaren

About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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