The Power of 3D Metal Printing in Formula One

28 March 2018

Technical Partner, Additive Industries launches its most advanced MetalFAB1 3D printing machines in Hinwil


The Additive Industries MetalFAB1: integrated metal additive manufacturing system

On the 23rd of November 2017, the Sauber Motorsport AG and our Formula One technical partner, Additive Industries B.V. unveiled the all-new MetalFAB1 3D-printing machine within the Hinwil factory, ahead of the 2018 Formula One season. The second machine was recently installed at the end of February 2018, allowing for further increase in production of 3D printed parts. 3D printing technology has become a big part of Automotive production, including race car production.

Though Sauber already has over 10 years of experience using Additive Manufacturing in printing plastics, we made the advancement to commit to a technical partnership from June of 2017, taking the next logical step to 3D metal printing. Additive Industries’ new MetalFAB1 machines offers a seamlessly integrated modular 3D printing platform, with more reproducibility, productivity, and flexibility compared to their predecessors.  (For more information, please visit: )

Sauber is excited to use this new machine in our HQ factory. The quality and productivity improvement will further support the low-volume production of complex parts and the tight deadlines of F1. Our Head of Windtunnel Production, Christoph Hansen explains, “At Sauber, we have initially installed one production module with high spec lasers and optics of the MetalFAB1 for the start-up, but we are planning to expand. The advantage of this machine is that we have the freedom to add-on specific modules such as additional production modules, as and when we need it.”


3D printing allows for “Freedom in Design”

So, how is 3D printing technology incorporated into the actual production of an F1 car?

For Sauber, the 3D printing technique is firstly used in the wind tunnel scale model, for example, on the front wing. The current F1 car’s front wing is a work of art, with intricate design and multiple complex parts. This means, creating a wind tunnel scale model is as difficult and crucial to get right, as the car itself.

Before 3D printing existed, these front wing parts had been machined conventionally. Thanks to the 3D printing technology and the partnership with Additive Industries that exists today, the wind tunnel models now use both printed metal and plastic parts for aero testing, produced in less time. If and when plastic is not strong enough to withstand forces in the wind tunnel, it is now also much easier to print the same product in metal with this new machinery. Being able to produce stronger parts improves testing repeatability and results in better test quality. A win-win for all partners involved.

Hansen comments, “With 3D printing, these intricate front parts can go straight from design to automated production because we can build it from ground zero. We have the freedom in design and there is no limitation in the geometry, so we can produce the parts in one go and it saves production lead time.”

Reducing weight, time and waste while improving quality

Once the wind tunnel testing is complete and the part design is fixed, the next step is production for the actual race car. Our (Head of Calculation) Ettore Di Domenico explains how 3D printing technologies will change and improve our production processes, with a car’s roll-hoop as an example.

A roll hoop in an F1 car is a curved structure located behind the head of the pilot, to protect the cockpit and the driver within should the car tip or roll over on its side or its belly. This is an important part within the structural design of the car and the safety of the driver. For example, a roll cage does the similar function within a Touring Car but it surrounds the whole interior of the car instead of just being placed in a key location.

Di Domenico says, “Sauber has been using 3D printing technology to produce the roll-hoop structure, by means of DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering). The biggest advantage of using this method is being able to design the part with more freedom, and not conforming the part to the machinery that produces it. New shapes which cater to our needs have become manufacturable, and as a result, we have been able to reduce the weight of the component quite considerably. 3D printing has also helped reduce production lead time by 20-25%, cutting down on the machines programming time, and provided a further massive gain on the material supply chain.

“Prior to using 3D printing production, we were machining roll-hoops from aluminium blocks. Traditionally, the ordering lead time of the big aluminium blocks used as blanks, was 6 months. Furthermore, the block themselves were inconsistent in strength due to the nature of the heat treatment that each block received. Because of this, we always needed to order materials in excess and scrutineer each block to make sure the mechanical properties were high enough to guarantee a safe installation on our car. In comparison, the materials required for the Additive Manufacturing machine is much easier for us to acquire, and always in supply.

“The aluminium powder used in the new Additive Industry 3D printing machine is stronger and the quality of it very consistent so the scatter in the strength of the final product is very small. This increases efficiency, lowers the scrap rate and delivers a much more environmental friendly product, because we can now use the minimal powder needed to print the final part. If we compared this to a corresponding milling process of the same part, we can go as far to say that our material scrapping rate has been improved by over 90% .”

Different types of manufacturing

If 3D printing the new production technology of the future, will it now take over from the traditional milling production process?

Hansen explains, “3D printing technology is not a replacement for milling. It is an additional technology that complements the whole of production. For extremely delicate parts such as front wing parts, it gives us more freedom of design and helps us reduce lead time. Different parts require a different type of production, so we still need both technologies to make our car work.”

Similar to the mass production automotive industry, a race car still requires a combination of bulky and delicate parts to complete. For this reason, Sauber works with several different production technology partners to ensure we utilise our optimum resources and machinery to produce the specific parts required. Having the additional option of 3D printing is surely a benefit to the team, giving our designers and engineers more freedom and creativity in the proud work they do.

Where to go from here:

Visit our partner page here: Technical Partner, Additive Industries

And their official website here for more information on their business and the MetalFab1 machinery.

Finally, take a look at the latest Metal AM Magazine (English only) Spring 2018 edition here, or click on the below pdf for downloading more information on 3D printing, Sauber Motorsport AG and Additive Industries collaboration.