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Additive Manufacturing in Motor Sports

The array of manufacturing applications for 3D printing and additive manufacturing became broader this week with the announcement of a partnership between McLaren Racing and Stratasys.

McLaren Racing Formula 1 Car.
McLaren Racing Formula 1 Car.

As additive manufacturing and 3D printing are increasingly used to create production parts, it’s been fascinating to watch the extreme applications in which these parts are being applied. Just over two years ago, GE announced it would begin mass production on the interiors of fuel nozzles for GE Aviation’s next-generation LEAP jet engine using 3D printing. Now, McLaren Racing has announced it will start using fused deposition modeling (FDM) and Polyjet-based 3D printing, not just for functional prototyping, but also for production tooling and customized production parts.

Key to this announcement is McLaren’s four-year partnership with Stratasys, which will supply McLaren with a suite of 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions as the official supplier of 3D printing solutions to the McLaren-Honda Formula 1 team.

McLaren Racing makes four cars per year in a four-month process from start to finish, says John Cooper, commercial and finance director of McLaren Racing. “By definition [using this process], every part on the car is therefore rapid-prototyped,” he adds.

In the early stages of the McLaren/Stratasys partnership, Cooper says, “We will concentrate mainly on making tooling for car parts and then move towards non-structural parts for the model and race car, such as non-load-bearing components like winglets or small aero devices that can be easily attached to the car. Once we fully understand and embrace the technology, more of our parts will be designed to enable them to be manufactured using rapid prototyping technology.”

Explaining how additive manufacturing and 3D printing will add to McLaren’s current manufacturing mix, Cooper says, “McLaren manufactures in literally hundreds of different ways. Our main manufacturing capability on the rapid prototyping side is SLA (stereolithography) and SLS (selective laser sintering). Our composite parts are hand laid up and cured, then trimmed, finished and machined. Our metallic machining capability is extensive through our partnership with Mazak.”

Focusing on the partnership benefits for Stratasys, CEO Ilan Levin says Stratasys will “gain invaluable feedback and insights from working with ultra-high performance automotive applications, which we can then apply to our mainstream automotive and aerospace customers.”

This is the second partnership Stratasys has announced this year. Earlier this month, the company announced a partnership with Siemens to make additive manufacturing a stronger component of the manufacturing value chain.

Speaking to the increasing criticality of additive manufacturing to the company’s manufacturing processes, Eric Boullier, racing director of McLaren Racing, says, “It has become clear that motorsport’s reliance on rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing, and the ability to radically cut time to market, is increasing.”

Since 1966, when it entered its first Formula 1 race, McLaren has won 20 world championships and more than 180 grands prix.

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