Concept motorsport radiator

Formula One racing owes a lot to 3D printing, whether it’s prototyping or final parts. 3D printing can reduce the cost of prototyping and fabrication, allows for complex assemblies to be created in fewer parts, and speeds production, just to name a few of its benefits in the automotive sector. Progressive Technology and Betatype recently learned this first-hand when they worked together on a Formula One race car, creating a proof-of-concept heat exchanger that was designed to reduce weight by taking advantage of empty spaces within the car.

Progressive Technology started as a small shop providing high-end machining and engineering services to customers that included Formula One companies. It began as a CNC machining service, then started working with additive manufacturing when it merged with metal 3D printing experts Innovate 2 Make.

“We recognised the benefits of 3D printing metals to create lighter weight parts faster and on demand,” said Steve Shadwell of Progressive. “Teaming up with I2M was a great way to extend this technology and benefits to our clients. We had cultivated their trust over the years and they were thrilled to be exploring this emerging technology with us.”

Through the merger and subsequent work with 3D printing, Progressive came to be introduced to Betatype.

Sandwich panels showing lattice filling

“Betatype initially came to us as a customer to trial technology on an EOS machine we had,” said Dave Cooper of Progressive. “We had good rapport with the team from the start and recognised their unique technology and expertise when it came to creating lightweight structures using our existing AM machines. We started to explore other opportunities to work together with them from there.”

The two companies began working together on the heat exchanger. They replaced the radiator’s thin walls with a diamond lattice pattern with over 750,000 elements, which increased surface area while reducing weight. Progressive Technology still needed to produce the part quickly enough to make it economically viable for its client, which would be impossible using conventional methods of production.

“Off the shelf AM machines can handle general purpose geometry well enough, however this generic approach lacks fidelity when dealing with small scale structures,” said Cooper. “General purpose approaches can also be very inefficient with regards to data handling, overloading the AM machine software and resulting in crashes. This method resulted in build times of more than 100 hours, making this complex part too expensive to bother producing for Formula One. Using Betatype’s unique scanning technology and software, however, we were able to build the heat exchanger in a fifth or even a tenth of the time – making it a feasible design that can provide the competitive advantage our clients are looking for.”

Lattice structures have been limited in Formula One racing, as they’re difficult to test for strength. The scale of the small struts makes them difficult to analyze, and testing results can be 30% to 40% off, making it seem as though a structure can bear more weight than it actually can. What Betatype and Progressive Technology did, however, was to produce lattice structures with empirical properties, making strength and performance known quantities. This reduces both risk and the need for additional material, translating to better weight distribution within the cars. Progressive was able to measure for strength and thickness by putting a lattice from Betatype into a test machine to see how it reacts under force.

The factory floor at Progressive

“The lattice becomes a structure with known properties, which means our customers can count on it to carry the load,” said Cooper. “The reliable data means they can then reduce the thickness of solid walls elsewhere in the component, saving weight and generating a performance advantage. This is a step beyond what others can do.”

The partnership between Betatype and Progressive Technology has led to a great deal of innovation, which in turn leads to better results for both companies’ customers.

“Betatype has helped us to push the boundaries to see what AM is capable of for Formula One and beyond,” said Cooper. “They have us experimenting with new materials minimum feature sizes, hexagonal grids and other alternatives to solid welds – all of which OEM machines are not usually geared up to do. Our partnership is definitely a two-way street. Working together we’ve been able to achieve more for our customers, businesses and the industry.”

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[Images: Progressive Technology]

 

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