Fiat and Fraunhofer 3D Print First-of-its-Kind Car Suspension System

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The recent collaboration between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Fraunhofer Research Institution for Additive Manufacturing Technologies IAPT began simply enough: with all of the advances in 3D printing, would it be possible to manufacture the entire suspension system using additive manufacturing alone? In the end, the answer was a remarkable, first-of-its-kind additively manufactured wheel carrier, with an integrated brake caliper, that can be implemented into series production for luxury and sports cars.

The eye-catching, wheel carrier with integrated brake caliper, manufactured as one piece using AM. Image courtesy of FCA

Typically, suspension systems are an assembly of several critical components, including the brake caliper, wheel carrier, hydraulics, heat shield etc., held together by screws, seals and washers, all made through a complex, multi-step, time-consuming process. In this case, the suspension part was originally made up of 12 components. By using AM, the part assembly was consolidated as one-piece and weight was reduced by as much as 36%, which significantly contributes towards overall vehicle performance. Weight was reduced using topology optimization, by reducing material where mechanical stress is low. This also improved the fatigue resistance for the suspension system and contributed to reducing the vibrations, harshness, and noise in vehicle performance, which is all the more important for luxury sports cars.

“We had, together with the FCA design team, to completely rethink the entire wheel suspension in order to achieve a one-piece bionic structure that fulfilled all the functions of the previous assembly at least equally as well, absorbed all the forces, was weight-optimized, and could be produced additively,” says IAPT design engineer Yanik Senkel.

Fraunhofer IAPT is the 70th institute of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, one of the world’s largest application-oriented research organizations with more than 25,000 employees, and was formed by the LZN Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH along with parts of the Hamburg University of Technology. It focuses on supporting clients with implementing additive for serial production in areas of aerospace, ship & rail, machinery, bionics and more. Earlier this year, in August, Fraunhofer IFAM had announced the launch of fused filament fabrication technology using metal filaments at its Fusion Factory. At this year’s Formnext, Fraunhofer IAPT had also showcased developments in AM software tools for design, using web-based simulation tools.

FCA has long been using AM for prototyping, since 2015, having notably used it in developing the grille for the new Alfa Romeo Guilia. The group, including brands such as Dodge, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Jeep and more, has a Fiat Design for Additive Program where they’ve been developing the use of polymer and metal AM for end-part production at its factory in Turin, Italy.

The group has already been known to use multi-jet fusion platforms from HP for polymer printing, as well as metal powder bed fusion systems from Renishaw for its premium brands, Ferrari and Maserati, including their Formula teams as well. It has also developed mass customization platforms with its Centoventi concept car, with customizable sound systems, dashboards, storage, cushions and more.

Image courtesy of FCA

The result of their collaboration proved that AM was not only ready and capable of manufacturing an entire sports suspension system, but could also improve the performance, efficiency, and feasibility in suspension manufacturing.

Carlo Carcioffi, Head of Advanced Processes and Materials Body, Interiors, Chassis at FCA, explained the group’s ambition with this collaboration, “Together with our innovation partner Fraunhofer IAPT, we are cutting the costs and production effort for key vehicle parts. The knowledge transfer will help us to improve Additive Manufacturing competence in the fields of integrated design, materials, and process technology across the group.The component demonstrates the potential of Additive Manufacturing for future cars, and on top of that it’s a real eye-catcher.”

Image courtesy of FCA

AM also helps extend the lifetime in suspension performance parts, greatly reducing the cost, production and maintenance effort for this component. The collaboration team has also looked at materials and process development as well as quality assurance and will look to identify further components and critical parts to redevelop using AM.

“The overall focus is on the reduction of manufacturing costs, for example, by significantly increasing production speed,” explains Ruben Meuth, Head of Business Development at Fraunhofer IAPT. “This innovation project is an excellent example of the collaboration between industry and research. This component shows how Additive Manufacturing can be implemented into series production for luxury and sports cars,” sums up Meuth.

This is all the more relevant as FCA and the automobile moves towards electric vehicles, where reducing weight while improving efficiency and performance, which AM is increasingly proving in its applications, is fundamental to their viability compared to traditional vehicles.

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