Although the world’s largest car manufacturers turned to rapid prototyping to develop ready-to-use prototypes of various car parts ranging from engine components to interior details decades ago, the technology has since become dramatically cheaper and increasingly more accessible for smaller businesses and institutions including schools.
Among others who have turned to additive manufacturing to develop ready-to-use car parts includes Kingston University’s electric car racing team (KU e-Racing).
After having already established themselves as a leader in the production of electric race cars since being established in 2012, the south London-based team were named the United Kingdom’s highest scoring Formula Student electric team in the annual Formula Student race at Silverstone in both 2013 and 2014.
During the past three years, the company has produced two car designs that each have their own unique features.
The first design used a number of metal parts and an air-intake that required a constant running pump that needed replacing frequently due to overheating. The second design featured a number of parts that were produced using 3D printing in an effort to help reduce the total weight of the car and ultimately, improve the acceleration and speed performance.
“Additive manufacturing was an obvious means of reducing the weight of the car,” explains Aldus von der Burg, team leader at KU e-Racing. “By replacing metal parts with extremely tough, yet very lightweight 3D printed plastic components, we were able to decrease the overall weight of the car. With the precision of 3D printing, we could design, 3D print and test parts that directly fit the car and can endure the strain of motor-racing.”
Using a Stratasys 3D Printer, the company creates custom one-offs and prototypes that perform just as well as the final product. Among others, the company 3D printed a shutdown button mounting and main switch housing using Stratasys ABSplus production-grade thermoplastic.
Needless to say, implementing additive manufacturing into the design and fabrication of their parts has enabled the company to stay lean and avoid expensive manufacturing inaccuracies that could have a dramatic effect on the time-sensitive automobile performances. While reducing overall weight is one thing, the ability to dramatically reduce labor time while also fabricating multiple different iterations of a part simultaneously has revolutionized the company’s process.
“Using additive manufacturing, we were able to overcome our main developmental concern to manufacture parts that could withstand the gruelling pace and heat of motor-racing,” says von der Burg. “With the toughness of our 3D printed parts, the results did not disappoint, particularly the shutdown button mounting which needed to withstand sudden shock when slamming the button hard during an emergency.”
Like other industries who have taken full advantage of the capabilities that additive manufacturing offers over traditional manufacturing methods, the design team are also able to produce more complex parts either in-house or with a Stratasys reseller or service bureau. Among other parts designed to be optimized with additive manufacturing processes include an exhaust fan housing that was 3D printed in high-performance ULTEM 9085 resin and an air intake system that was 3D printed in PC-ABS.
“FDM 3D printing technology enables us to realize creative design freedoms without the limitations and constraints imposed by traditional manufacturing,” added von der Burg.
“With 3D printing we could design parts that adapted to our specific needs rather than designing the car around the parts.”