Additive manufacturing has long been used in automotive, especially in racing. AM enables designers to make fast changes when faced with rapidly changing regulations and short design times. What are some of the lessons learned by those who work with motorsports and what can you gain from their experiences? Kevin Baughey, 3D systems segment leader, transportation motorsports shares some of his experiences.
Q: What are some innovations that additive has enabled in the motorsports field?
The way that I like to view the entire industry is that it’s about transforming energy. If you think about the premise that you’re starting with a propulsion system that gives a certain amount of energy, the team’s objective is to take and maximize that energy and use it as best they possibly can. When you look at the applications important in motorsports, they’ve been centered on either the production of or the management of that energy. And I would say that the second piece has been really where we’ve spent a lot of time and innovation, at least from our perspective, which would be managing some of the aerodynamic forces and managing some of the air and fluid flow within the vehicle.
Q: Can you give an example of some of the other areas that energy management that AM contributes to?
If you look at just the fundamentals, one of the biggest areas in the aerodynamic side using a wind tunnel is obviously maximizing downforce, minimizing drag, and so on. The teams have spent a lot of time in leveraging applications, leveraging materials, processes and developing around minimizing drag. In air and fluid handling, a similar kind of aspect is going to be about taking air from one portion of the vehicle, and run it through a lot of ducting, which can be very convoluted spaces.
If you look at it also from the air and fluid from one point to the vehicle and directing it to another point in the vehicle to either dissipate energy from the system, you transfer heat out or actually direct air into the propulsion system, for instance. And all of that really involves going through convoluted paths and so on through the vehicle to maximize the packaging, reducing dynamic drag. So very similar areas and concepts really about managing and optimizing energy.
Q: How have motorsports innovations advanced AM technology, has there been a reciprocal exposure or experience?
Absolutely. I would say there’s a couple of different areas. One is just the material side. Optimizing the applications and using the right material to get the right performance. For instance, if you talk about aerodynamics, there’s a couple of things: the structural rigidity mimicking what’s on the vehicle or what’s going to be on the vehicle as well as surface finish. In some cases, we’re talking about optimizing the color and finish of the parts. So there have been a lot of innovations in specifying the materials that we’re using. This also falls in the metal side, obviously as well. If you look at it, the use of some of the more advanced alloys, lightweight alloys, heat resistant alloys have been prevalent in motorsports and they’ve driven a lot of advancements.
The other area that people look at in motorsports is how many iterations they go through–productivity is a big piece for them. Typically, you don’t think of motorsports as being a productive play, but they have a finite number of resources and a finite amount of time in between when they have to develop and put to track. So, all of the processes that go on in terms of how you build preparation, how you handle post-processing and curing, a lot of advancements and understanding goes into that. We’ve learned a lot from motorsports in that respect as well.
Q:Can you maybe go into an example of how it maybe has changed something that additively some system or some machine that you might’ve been working on additively?
The motorsports teams are shy about details, but I can allude to some of these. In some cases, you have a finite package to work with, but like I said, you’ve got a lot of energy to manage. In some cases, these are not just air fluids, they can be liquid too. And being able to harness the dynamic fluid pressure in those while in a package is a big need that can be addressed through additive. We can do things in terms of the geometries to capture that fluid and then put it back into use quickly through things like part consolidation, extremely thin walls, and post-processing to evacuate the area of any debris or contamination. So those have been areas that we’ve been able to leverage using additive in the motorsports space that, I would say is beyond what you would think of as traditional.
Q: Based on your experience here, are there any design developments from the motorsports area that can be used by engineers working in other fields?
What’s interesting about my segment of transportation and motorsports, is that we have five diverse sub-segments within it. We have our motorsports obviously, but we also have the consumer auto side, which includes OEMs and tier-one suppliers. We also have public and commercial transportation, marine and recreation, and so on. The applications that we’ve developed there, I would say a lot of them have actually been driven for motorsports into some of these other sub-segments and are really directly applicable, and you’ll see them in applications and other segments like in aerospace and defense, in general manufacturing and service bureaus and so on. The performance wind tunnel application in motorsports is applicable in what we would call the body exterior systems that the OEMs would be using, right, where you’re really trying to manage and optimize the aerodynamic flow.
Similarly, we have metal structural in motorsports. And that application is directly used in the consumer OEM side of the business because it’s managing forces and using lightweighting and topology optimization and so on. The other areas that come to mind are energy and fluid management.
The big difference is we have to look at the business model and those other segments and how they’re leveraged and what values they’re providing. Motorsports can have some unique value propositions. You’re getting speed at all costs whereas when we look at consumer auto or some of these other segments, it’s about what can we leverage in terms of the process efficiency that motorsports is driven into that application.
Q: It sounds like it would be very beneficial for maybe even a medical engineer designing something with additive to keep an eye on what’s going on in the motorsports area, because some of those developments might be applicable. I’m finding that in a cross-section of the engineering fields.
I think some of the advanced materials applications that we talk about are like that. Energy and fluid management, when you’re talking about pumps and so on, those are going to be directly applicable on medical devices and as I mentioned in the application for motorsports, evacuating contaminants out of a system, you can draw a direct line comparison to the medical example. That’s going to be critical in a biological or a medical field. Same thing in aerospace. It’s amazing the connection that we can draw between aerospace and the motorsports side. I mean, it’s like they’re really sister segments. We pull a lot of expertise out of what’s going on in aerospace into our motorsports and vice versa. We get a lot of the motorsports bridging into aerospace.
Q: Do some of those material developments apply to other industries as a result of motorsports use?
Yes, absolutely. So, for instance, we actually launched a set of materials just recently that are pushing the envelope in terms of photopolymer-based plastics in terms of longevity for use. They’re not degrading in terms of weeks and months, it’s years. The customers that we were working with to develop those, one of them was in our motorsports field. And those materials are directly applicable across multiple segments. We’ve indicated it against consumer goods and service bureaus, as well as aerospace and so on. So yeah, we’re able to leverage the advancement, the innovation that the customers are driving into these materials across segments and that’s been kind of the norm actually.
There have been other materials advancements that we’ve made recently that were somewhat developed specifically for motorsports in Formula One. We had a PIV, a wind tunnel material. But even there, if you look at the fundamental principle of optimizing the aerodynamics and wind tunnel, multiple industries are using wind tunnel and aerodynamics as well so we expect it to bleed over.
Q: Do you think that there might be some reluctance on the part of some designers who are used to using metal materials to switch over to some of these more rugged polymer materials?
Actually… I don’t. The engineers that I’ve worked with keep a pretty open mind about material usage. What I’ve found in our particular industry and motorsports and automotive, it’s not necessarily about the engineer’s willingness to look, it’s really about the ability to certify and prove that the material is intended for use. And we spend a lot of time on that. A good example are the materials that I just mentioned. The reason why we’re advancing those materials in high heat, flame-resistant longevity in terms of its life is for exactly that, to prove out these materials for use in application. I think that’s really the hurdle that I think the engineers are looking to overcome. That’s what we’re working on.
Innovators innovate. Engineers typically don’t have a problem with imagination and trying to figure out what they want to do. It’s a matter of what they can do. And that’s what we’re really focusing our efforts on in reducing that barrier of entry and then also giving them the confidence in the material and its use for the applications that they’re providing.
People start with exotic alloys to meet a function. Ultimately, if you see that application, it ends up going into that’s my minimal risk exotic alloy. How do I now start to migrate down into something that’s more cost-effective and maybe more productive while still managing that risk? I think we’re seeing a lot where people have really moved from those exotics and they’re exploring more in terms of some of the aluminum alloys, Gamma alloys is 6061s, and so on.
Q: Are the powder manufacturers or the metal manufacturers, are they making it easier to get the kind of alloys and materials that the engineers looking for? Are they struggling with any specific issues?
No, I haven’t really run into a bottleneck in terms of the manufacturer’s ability to produce the materials that we need. It’s really just marrying the application with the parameters and the technology that we have in terms of direct metal production in our case. So, no, I don’t think it’s necessarily like a supply chain or a manufacturing material factor. Yeah. I think it’s really an expertise in the applications and the technology that builds it.