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Oxford Brookes – min weight, max performance

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The Brief:
3T RPD Ltd has sponsored the Oxford Brookes team for several years, and were delighted to support them again by supplying parts for their 2007 race car. Using plastic Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology, 3T built two housings in Glass Filled Nylon using Selective Laser Sintering for the cars electronic components. One houses the electronics which control the front end of the car and the other contains the engine computer, relays, fuses and rear end control electronics.

The Solution:
The car’s electronics needed to be housed in compact and lightweight boxes and it was proving difficult for the team’s engineers to find exactly the right sized boxes for the application. To minimise overall weight and thereby improve performance, they needed to reduce the amount of parts within the car. Thus they came upon the idea to produce boxes that were precisely the right size for the components and incorporate an integral fuse box to keep the relays in place. Realistically, this couldn’t be done by any other manufacturing method other than Rapid Prototyping because the tooling costs are far too high for a one-off part.

The Result:
Once the team had opted to pursue Rapid Prototyping, their designers knew they could make the housings as intricate as they liked, as plastic AM is capable of building parts with very high levels of complexity. They were able to design the housings around the internal components to fit precisely to the race car.

To give the components a finished look they were sprayed black, which also helped prevent oil discolouring them. They were fitted to the race car and have performed well during preliminary testing, during which it became very apparent that the students had drastically underestimated the strength of the Nylon material used to produce them. Due to its strength and toughness, it would be possible to build future housings with half or maybe even a quarter of the wall thickness they have now, further reducing the weight of the car.

Furthermore, the strength of the housings meant that they could also act as structural supports for the radiator duct and fan, as well as giving them sufficient protection in the event of a crash.

Ian Cooke, Oxford Brookes University and designer of the 2005 Rapid Prototyped Intake and Throttle System says:We can do things with rapid prototyping that would not otherwise be possible on our tight timescale.

Extra bits:
The car was shipped out to the States for the US Formula Student competition in mid-May 2007. Further testing will take place throughout June in preparation for the Formula Student UK event at Silverstone in mid-July, and it will also be taking part in the Germany competition in August.

The parts that 3T has produced for previous Oxford Brookes teams are still being used on the current race cars, having proved to be extremely durable and reliable. Complex custom fuel injection intakes were built using plastic AM two years ago, giving their cars a power advantage over their competition, and they are still going strong today.

Related links:
Oxford Brookes University


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