The Many Ways F1 Teams Have Put 3D Printing into Motorsports

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In a sport where speed, weight reduction, and development cycles are key, it’s no wonder why 3D printing and F1 get on like a house on fire. Each year, the use of 3D printing has expanded in F1 and teams are utilizing the technology to push their development processes faster than ever. This article explores some of those 3D printing endeavors and how the teams and manufacturers are incorporating the technology into the sport. There were so many examples to choose from, but, in the end, we highlighted six of our favorite projects that have happened in F1 so far.

 

McLaren’s 3D Printed Rear-Wing Mold

Composite layup tool for a McLaren MCL32 rear wing flap, produced on a Stratasys Fortus 900mc 3D Printer using ULTEM 1010 material.

In 2017, McLaren announced it was expanding its manufacturing relationship with 3D printing company, Stratasys, by buying more of its 3D printers. The team has been using the company’s fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers to print parts, accelerate car development, and manufacture heat-sensitive components, but wanted to increase its ability to do so.

One of the many 3D printed upgrades McLaren showcased was its rear-wing flap. While the race wing flap itself was not 3D printed, the lay-up tool used to mold the carbon fiber-reinforced composites were. The tool was made on the Fortus 900mc Production 3D printer with ULTEM 1010 material, and took three days to print. The high temperature composite structure shown in our inforgraphic was designed to increase rear-wing downforce and help the car shed a few tenths per lap. With this technology, McLaren had the ability to change circuit specific downforce requirements quickly and ensure its car was set up to perform at its maximum.

McLaren continues to use Stratasys 3D printers in the 2023 season and may be one of the reasons they have the second fastest car heading into F1’s Summer Break. 

Ferrari’s 3D Printed Piston

The top section of a 3D printed piston. (Image courtesy of Porsche.)

One car component some F1 fans may be surprised to hear is 3D printed is an actual engine piston! Yes, Ferrari has talked publicly about its exploration of metal 3D printing and how the company could possibly use it to manufacture its engine pistons. The firm believes the technology could not only help save weight on a car, but also increase its engine’s reliability too.

Ferrari, specifically, has been exploring various steel alloy powders it could use to manufacture 3D printed pistons. The company wanted to move away from commonly used aluminum alloy powders and, instead, depend on a steel alloy that can better resist deformation without breaking under extreme temperatures. While the steel alloy may be heavier, Ferrari can incorporate weight saving lattice designs, such as a honeycomb pattern, to save weight while maintaining the strength of the part.

Ferrari is not alone in exploring 3D printing for engine designs, but it is one of the most vocal about it.

3T AM’s 3D Printed Roll Hoop

The 3D printed roll hoop concept developed by 3T AM, formerly 3T RPD. (Image courtesy of 3T AM.)

3D printing and F1 may have expanded their relationship in more recent years, but before the technology became a mainstay, the teams needed to know that 3D printing could provide the benefits it touted. Well in 2012, 3T AM, formerly 3T RPD, helped that effort and demonstrated the benefits of metal 3D printing to F1 by producing its own concept of a 3D printed roll hoop.

The titanium roll hoop used Ti6Al4V titanium alloy and a custom lattice design from Within Technologies to save 2 kg of weight. The design was optimized using Within Enhanced software, including the incorporation of thin walls with an internal lattice structure, to create the structural strength needed when protecting a driver’s head during a vehicle roll.

The F1 teams had positive feedback for the roll hoop and has since been incorporated into some of the F1 cars.

EOS Brake Pedals

A concept image of EOS’s 3D printed brake pedal. (Image courtesy of EOS.)

When each gram matters, F1 teams will look to save weight anywhere. Now, that even includes brake pedals!

EOS, the leading manufacturer of metal laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) 3D printers, demonstrated its ability to not only lighten the pedal’s weight, but also stiffen it in the process. The company challenged its engineers to find a way to utilize its topology optimization software and LPBF printing technology to make the brake pedal and reduce its weight in the process. This resulted in a pedal that weighed just 178 grams, featuring a spiderweb-like design to ensure structural stability. EOS says it can reduce the weight a further 80 grams to create a functional part as light as 98 grams.

As of 2021, the pedals were only demos and not specced for racing, but, if the F1 teams wanted to, they could manufacture them and test them to ensure they meet the FIA safety standards.

Alfa Romeo 3D Printed Brake Inlets for Wind Tunnel Testing

A 3D printed brake inlet for Sauber Alfa Romeo.

When Sauber Alfa Romeo needed to test its brake inlet designs, it turned to polymer LPBF. The company has used the technology to iterate multiple brake inlet ideas more quickly than possible with traditional manufacturing practices. The team says it enjoys the flexibility and speed LPBF provides, while also allowing it to discover designs that ensure a car performs at its best.

The development team prints using their proprietary HiPAC powder, a carbon-reinforced polyamide, because of the material’s light and rigid properties. Sauber loves the cost savings 3D printing allows for and the time it saves by exploring multiple development avenues in parallel. Sauber intends to continue using the technology as it has helped the team to develop vehicles more quickly and remain agile in F1’s uber-competitive development race.

Williams’ 3D Printing for Front Wing and Wind Tunnel Testing

Williams’ F1 Car. (Image courtesy of Williams Racing.)

One of the most storied F1 teams, Williams Racing, has been using 3D printing to help develop its front wings and other components during wind tunnel testing.

Williams, which had previously partnered with German manufacturer, EOS, announced a new partnership with Nexa3D in 2021 to help expand its additive manufacturing capabilities. The team plans to use NXE400 photo-curing resin printers and NexaX software to optimize the printing production and part performance for their car.

The team will now be able to iterate through aerodynamic ideas faster with Nexa3D’s technology and attempt to close the gap to the mid-field.

Other F1 Partnerships

These are just six of the different ways in which 3D printing has been used by F1 teams to achieve a leading edge in the high-paced world of motorsports. The BWT Alpine F1 Team, for instance, has numerous SLA and LPBF machines from 3D Systems, with which it performs a number of tasks, ranging from making parts for wind tunnel testing as well as a variety of tooling, often relying on materials that it co-developed with 3D Systems. Other applications of AM in F1 include metal parts from APWORKS and Additive Industries, as well as polymer components from Roboze, among others.

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