Motorsport was one of the first sectors to continuously use additive manufacturing. The main reason lies in the extremely rapid evolution cars undergo race after race: upgrades and modifications are made at lightning fast pace and the overall speed of additive manufacturing makes it a winning choice.
The second reason, equally as important in opting for technologies that have certainly passed the experimental phase but are not yet fully developed, is the ability to allocate significant budgets in experimenting with new solutions and new production methods.
The AM Production Factory is an ideal partner for the motorsport sector, including its more extreme forms, which requires very high performance in terms of the physical and mechanical characteristics of the car parts to be used.
The differences between additive manufacturing and traditional production technologies
In extreme motorsport, victory is often obtained also thanks to the possibility of experimenting with a number of different solutions before choosing the one that will be used in the race.
One of additive manufacturing's most well-known features is that of being able to design components with total freedom in terms of shape and geometry. Being able to produce several versions, slightly altered, of the same component at the same time leads to a drastic increase in the number of tests that can be carried out for each development strategy, even if the teams have rather short times between races.
Additive technologies, compared to those traditionally used, are able to process materials such as nickel and titanium super alloys more easily. The downside lies in the fact that there is still incomplete formalisation, in a shared way, of the production processes and therefore, in order to ensure high reliability, it is absolutely necessary to carry out a greater number of controls and testing.
The uses of plastic 3D printing in motorsport
In motorsport, both additive technologies that allow the use of plastics and technologies that allow the use of metals are used.
When the intended use is linked to tooling and therefore to create production aid tools, plastic and, in particular, PA 12, becomes an important material to make tooling more efficient by reducing time and costs and allowing complete tool customisation.
Even if used, plastic is still less frequently chosen for final components made of nylon with carbon fibre, laminated or painted. It is more commonly used for hooks, protective walls, air intakes, flow conveyors, diffusers, and deflectors when materials with a higher performance are not needed.
In motorsport plastics are generally used during the car development phase, in particular in the wind tunnel; with additive manufacturing it is possible to obtain immediate feedback using a scale model as required by the regulations.
The technology of choice is unquestionably stereolithography which allows you to reduce air friction thanks to the low roughness obtainable from this 3D printing process. The components sometimes undergo nickel plating to increase their rigidity and replicate the behaviour and characteristics of the final metal pieces.
Additive manufacturing, and in particular glass-filled materials with natural insulating characteristics that can be used by SLS technology, is used for electrical applications such as ERS and KERS.
The functional parts obtained through additive manufacturing of the metals used in motorsport
Metal additive manufacturing is widely used in motorsport for tubes and fittings to join the segments of the power unit; it is also widely used for exhausts. In addition, designers are experimenting more and more with use for more complex applications such as pistons, engine heads, and oil-piston jets.
In the near future, it is highly likely that additive manufacturing will bring significant advantages to the endothermic unit linked to the engine head, to the cooling channels.
From a technology point of view, metal additive manufacturing is officially ready to enter the field of engine applications. The reasons that cause many to doubt these applications are linked to the fact that there is still limited historical documentation to ensure overall reliability. Regulations limit the number of engines available during the season and the lack of large amounts of data to refer to pushes designers towards more conservative choices, meaning additive manufacturing is used more for static applications than for dynamic ones.
One of the determining factors for the increase in performance is being able to reduce heating problems by acting on the increase in radiant space. Metal additive manufacturing is able to produce complex monolithic components without the need for welding, as well as allowing curves and irradiation not permitted by the hydroforming technique typically used.
Gaining space in the car allows you to increase the radiant space, reduce overheating problems and, therefore, significantly increase the performance of the power unit.
DMLS/SLM technology is perfectly suited to the extreme motorsport sector
Zare acquired the first DMLS/SLM production system in 2014 as a result of the analysis carried out by crossing the technological characteristics with the needs of clients operating in the sectors it was aiming at entering.
Motorsport was, and is, certainly one of the most significant areas in which to gain experience and, from that date, Zare immediately began working alongside racing teams.
Designers operating in critical sectors have reference values, created over time, for the materials used in the projects. Metal additive manufacturing still has many experimental aspects, especially with regard the development of parameters and production methods that can guarantee the result the designer is used to.
DMLS/SLM technology is the one that comes closest to fusion in terms of results and out of all metal additive manufacturing technologies it is to be considered the most mature and reliable; also, it allows excellent repeatability of results.
Materials used by motorsport for parts produced with additive technologies
In terms of plastics, the most commonly used are ceramic-filled materials for use in the wind tunnel, such as Somos® PerForm. For specific uses glass fibre filled materials or carbon fibre filled materials are used. As far as tooling is concernedPA 12 is often the most common choice.
Metal parts produced via additive manufacturing are widely used in the motorsport sector. Titanium is weldable and offers excellent thermal and mechanical properties. Used for additive production, it allows you to reach mechanical characteristics even higher than fusion as the use of an inert chamber without oxygen and at room temperature eliminates the interstitial elements that can make the alloy less hard.
Inconel, already routinely used in motorsport in machining from solid, is used for parts that need to withstand high temperatures, offering significant advantages in terms of mechanical characteristics. Zare offers different inconel alloys such as 625, that is very malleable and 718, ideal for exhausts.
Other alloys such as Hastelloy X, Alloy 263 and Alloy 282 offer excellent performance and resistance to corrosion even at high temperatures: these are materials that are more difficult to find and less frequent in subtractive manufacturing.