Formula 1 and AM
With Nico Rosberg winning this year’s Formula 1 championship against his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, it is worth considering the role that Additive Manufacturing (AM) plays in the Formula 1 Championship. 3T RPD is a major supplier to the F1 industry and while we can’t talk about who our customers are, it is probably fair to say that we are one of the major additive manufacturing producers for F1 motorsport and the automotive industry.
Formula1 has been described as one of AM’s “earliest adopters” and has been using AM produced products in their research and race cars for “more than a decade”. The complex nature of F1 components, the high stress factors to which they are subjected and the short production runs required, makes AM an ideal process for the production of F1 parts. F1 teams strive for the ideal balance of lightness, weight, strength and driver safety. AM production has helped to enable them to meet these aims and they have only been achieved because of the flexibility of the AM process. It allows products to be designed and manufactured in ways that simply are not possible using traditional fabrication techniques. AM Production allows parts to be manufactured where “material is placed only where it is required and not as a result of the physical or financial limitations of the manufacturing process”. AM has now reached beyond the “relatively small and lightly loaded” components to become able to produce complex geometries which have been manufactured to save weight, maintain strength and which are difficult to make conventionally, such as roll hoops, flanges and collectors. As a result of our AM production capacity and consistency, 3T RPD has become a major supplier of AM produced exhaust components for F1. Our customers have found that the use of AM production for F1 roll hoops, flanges and collectors is the “perfect solution” for their needs. In addition to that the part’s “geometries are accurate and repeatable” giving designers a large selection of geometry options to optimise performance.
AM produced parts are an ideal fit for F1, but how many AM parts are there in an average F1 car as it flies around the tracks in Abu Dhabi or Silverstone? In an article written in 2015 for Race Tech Magazine it was claimed that an average team, if such a thing exists in F1, will use around 40-60 AM parts in each car. The same article claimed that 3D printing is now an integral part of every team, with each F1 team having “some form of 3D printing resource”. Interestingly, while each F1 team is highly independent and its team members are very skilled, the vast majority of automotive 3D printing metal AM work for F1 is outsourced to expert AM suppliers, like 3T RPD.
They use outside resources for their AM and 3D printing because the teams understand that a company like 3T RPD is truly an expert in the systems and production needed to consistently make the extremely complex parts for each car. It is reported that there have been discussions about teams investing in 3D printing machines at the trackside. While this might be a solution for plastic parts with their short build times, it is not yet practicable for metal parts which can take up to 30 or 40 hours to manufacture. For the time being, teams will not be making flanges and collectors at the trackside.
The automotive industry and F1 will continue to use 3D printing and AM production in increasing quantities. As the season closes, teams will be assessing their successes and failures on the track in order to improve their placings for next year. As they go into the winter break, teams will be building on their learnings from this season. They will be improving the designs of their current additive manufacturing automotive parts, while developing new and additional AM parts for their cars in readiness for the new season, which starts in March.
The future of AM production in F1 can only go one way, there will be more AM parts and 3T RPD will continue to be a key component in the fast-paced world of F1.