Jordan-Honda – plastic AM on F1 race car
In the technological battle that is international motor racing, products are designed, built and tested to spectacularly demanding schedules. During the Formula One season there is usually a two week gap between races, in which time the teams’ designers and engineers must respond to issues uncovered during the previous race, incorporate design improvements emerging from their continuous R&D programme, test proposed solutions and equip the race cars with new and tested parts. 3T RPD has been working with the Jordan-Honda Formula 1 Team to squeeze vital days out of the design and production of components for its 2001 season cars.
Investigations into the possibility of using RP for direct production first came about as the team explored more efficient methods of producing the boxes for electrical connections needed to hold the cars’ complex wire harnesses together. Modern Formula One cars have an elaborate array of sensors and control devices designed to keep the pit crews and engineers fully informed of the car’s performance during the race. These systems are constantly revised during the season, and every change requires new wiring connections, and new connection boxes.
Conventionally the electrical connection boxes are built in carbon fibre reinforced plastic, a solution that is strong and light, but the tooling and hand lay-up process required to build the boxes makes their production painfully slow in Formula One terms.
As part of its car development process, the team decided to use boxes made from glass filled Nylon materials, produced using 3T’s Plastic AM machines. The results were dramatic. “A carbon box takes a long time to tool up, so it probably takes a few days to turn around one,” says Mike Stevens, Senior CAM Engineer at Jordan. “The plastic Additive Manufacturing (AM) process can do a dozen boxes in that time.”
Durability of the finished products was pleasing as well. “We first made the plastic AM boxes for testing before we built them in carbon,” Stevens notes, “but they were lasting longer than expected, so we ended up using them on the actual race cars.” Boxes produced using plastic AM have proved themselves capable of withstanding the rigours of a full Grand Prix race, and some have even stayed on the car for two or three races.
Encouraged by the success of the electrical connection boxes, Jordan engineers have extended their use of the plastic AM technique to include aerodynamic body parts and cooling ducts as well. On more recent iterations of the cars, plastic AM body panels as big as a suspension-blanking piece of 300 x 200mm, but only 2mm thick, have been built and raced.
Even with the fast build capabilities of plastic AM machines, Jordan’s production demands have been considerable. “During the season 3T RPD probably build around 35 parts a week for us,” says Stevens. “But when we were developing the 2001 car it might have been as many as 50 or 60. The guys at 3T really did their best to quickly turn parts around for us, and we could be confident that we would get the parts back when we needed them.”
Formula One engineers are no strangers to rapid prototyping (RP) techniques. Jordan-Honda, based at Silverstone in Northamptonshire, has two stereo lithography machines at its premises, which it uses to build models of car parts, both for its actual cars and for the wind tunnel models it uses in the constant battle to refine aerodynamic performance. RP has taken on a new dimension as the team has been working with 3T RPD to build plastic AM parts for direct use on the racing cars themselves.
Jordan and 3T RPD are exploring the extension of plastic AM manufacture into other areas of the car, with the use of new materials to provide improved strength and heat resistance capabilities.
Bob Halliwell, Jordan’s Production Manager, is enthusiastic about the process. “The big advantage is that we can go straight from the drawing, to the machine and then onto the car,” he says, “whereas previously, we would have had to build a pattern, then a mould, then make the part and maybe build a special fixture for trimming. With plastic AM we can build any 3D shape, which is good for items such as cooling ducts as we don’t have to worry about parting planes and building the mould in several parts.”
Halliwell expects that future cars will see more components built using plastic AM , and he too is eagerly awaiting new generations of materials. “We are always looking for new materials to bring the car’s weight down, and 3T RPD is good because they not only do the job for us, but also think about what we are trying to achieve and come up with suggestions for new materials and new approaches.”