Formula 1 has long made intensive and extensive use of 3D printing. In wind tunnel testing models, structural components on cars, mirrors and other components and in the chassis and body of the car itself. Special material grades of reinforced plastics and matrix materials have been developed specifically for Formula 1 and other motorsports. Lately we’ve seen F1 teams and 3D printing companies embrace each other very publicly.
F1’s love affair with 3D printing has been going on much longer than this, however. Only, this being F1, they’ve always been secretive about it. 3D printing lets you make shapes that you can not make with another technology. You can save weight by designing forms that would not work either using other means. Our technology is ideally suited for one-offs or low-volume products and this is exactly what F1 cars are. In creating new geometries and new shapes to push the envelope on weight and speed 3D printing is an ideal technology to do this. F1 teams have for years used 3D printing in many different applications.
Seeking a competitive advantage, Ferrari have been using 3D printing to develop their Formula 1 engine with an innovative new piston design since 2017, but the Italian side now hopes that a manufacturing breakthrough could provide an edge over their rivals in the development war of the 2019 Formula One championship. The Scuderia successfully passed the mandatory crash test in the CSI laboratories of Bollate a few weeks ago, with FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer also being present at the event. Not a normal thing for the sports governing body to do and the reasons for their attendance became clear later on.
It seems that Scuderia Ferrari has employed a new method of construction using a process similar to 3D printing. This new and revolutionary type of 3D printing actually uses a material with similar properties to carbon fibre, which creates the possibility of making actual parts for the car at a speed unprecedented in Formula 1 car manufacturing. It is rumoured to be up to ten times faster than the normal process of making moulds, laying sheets of carbon fibre and then heating by use of an autoclave oven. From the moment the piece is designed on the Cad Cam computer, it is directly moulded with these new generation materials. The significance of such a breakthrough could become extremely important in this era of limited testing, given the fact that Formula 1 teams with such processes can rapidly alter aero parts ‘on the fly’, and send directly to the track during a race weekend. It is said that soon the process might even be used on site, in the pit garage during a weekend.
The process does not represent something new for rivals Mercedes, Red Bull or indeed Renault. The main difference would be that the Maranello team has identified a solution to actually make it work on a practical level, which led to the FIA technical delegate being present during the crash test.
Parts of the chassis were manufactured in this new material, so the FIA were keen to ensure that the test performed normally and without incident.