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Inside Your Axle – Fiat Chrysler Uses 3D Printing to Open a Window on Automotive Fluid Dynamics

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US is now using 3D printing to get a look inside what have traditionally been closed systems–automotive axle and pinion carriers.

The company has opened up a unique window to reveal the fluid dynamics of oil flow inside axles and pinion carriers. What once required cutting windows into these metallic components and analyzing fluid movement with a dynamometer is now a much more effective and simpler process.

One problem 3D printing has solved for designers? Whereas before engineers were hindered by the movement of the oil within such systems as it turned milky and cloudy and blocked the view of the internal workings of pinion carriers, FCA engineers in the US decided to add a third dimension to the process.

They now print see-through, plastic components which they use excluChrysler 3d printed test axlesively for testing purposes, and the new method allows engineers to view and virtually analyze the fluid flow patterns inside the systems. A clearer view of what happens in the axle system means a step toward greater durability and efficiency.

“Efficient axles are critical to our powertrain strategy,” says Jeffrey Lux, Vice President-Transmission Powertrain for FCA. “For the customer, they offer an economical way to improve total powertrain efficiency. Accordingly, we’ve introduced six new axle families since the foundation for FCA US was established in 2009.”

It’s one of only thousands of tests performed each day at the Chrysler Technology Center, also known as CTC, which is located within the FCA US headquarters. FCA says their CTC is the auto industry’s only headquarters building “where a vehicle design can go from a napkin sketch to production prototype to advertising campaign – and everything in between – under one roof.”

“CTC is a key competitive advantage for FCA US,” says John Nigro, the Vice President-Product Development at FCA. “We have more than 14,000 people under one roof, including 7,900 engineers. That speeds the collaborative process, which is the lifeblood of our business.”

FCA Technology CenterCovering some 5.4 million square feet of floor space, CTC is the single largest headquarters of any kind in North America save for the Pentagon.

At CTC, there is an aerodynamics testing facility capable of generating wind speeds in excess of 160+ mph; a group of dynamometer cells which run 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and offices and work spaces for more than 14,000 employees–all within a site the company says produces no landfill waste.

With headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, FCA US is part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) group of companies that design, engineer, and manufacture brands like Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, and FIAT. The company distributes the stylish Alfa Romeo 4C model and Mopar products, and FCA is the seventh-largest automaker in the world.

Do you know of any other applications where 3D printing is used to test or reveal the workings of various products? Let us know in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Uses 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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