What impact is additive manufacturing having on the design and production of supercars?

To significantly reduce its design-to-manufacture time, Briggs Automotive Company (BAC), the British manufacturer of the recently launched elite supercar Mono R, turned to Stratasys and its FDM 3D printing

When faced with detrimental delays to the design process of an essential air intake, the BAC team turned to Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing to quickly produce fully functional prototypes and improve final, on-road performance.

Such a method reduced production of the airbox from two weeks to just a few hours.

BAC Mono R Supercar - image courtesy of Stratasys / Briggs Automotive Company

The Mono R is described as being the company’s most complexly designed car to date, with years of thought and thousands of hours of research behind it.

Mono R weighs just 555kg and is reportedly the first production car in the world to incorporate the use of graphene-enhanced carbon fibre in every one of its body panels.

In order to meet the necessary criteria, the design had to be lighter and more efficient than any supercar before it. One such challenge was the design and testing of the Mono R’s innovative air intake.

Essential for the car’s cooling and on-road performance, the airbox has an extremely complex and unique geometry, with the final part needing to be produced entirely in carbon fibre.

Such rigorous demands meant that the production of a prototype using traditional methods presented a huge hurdle for the team. Naturally, the aim was to avoid lead times and costs potentially spiralling, while ensuring no compromise to the performance and functionality of the prototype itself.

Side View - BAC Mono R Supercar - image courtesy of Stratasys / Briggs Automotive Company

The final design of the airbox required expensive tooling, and the carbon fibre production process proved labour-intensive. It quickly became apparent to the design team that creating a prototype using traditional machining was simply unfeasible.

“The lead time to produce one prototype of the airbox using traditional machining methods surpassed two weeks,” explains Ian Briggs, BAC design director. “If there were any problems with the prototype produced, then any design iterations would add double that amount of time. This was a delay we just couldn’t afford.”

The team at BAC turned to additive manufacturing as the solution and sought the help of Stratasys.

Using the Stratasys F900 Production 3D Printer, the team produced the airbox in just a few hours, which was then fitted to the car and put through its paces to assess the parts design and performance – significantly reducing the design-to-manufacture time.

Additive Manufacturing - Mono R Supercar airintake - image courtesy of Stratasys / Briggs Automotive Company

However, it wasn’t just turnaround times that the team had to consider. The Mono R can reach top speeds of 170mph, with its power surpassing 340bhp and its power-to-weight ratio reaching 612bhp-per-tonne.

As such, every aspect of the design was crucial to the success of the car. With temperatures expected to surpass 100˚C, any prototype produced needed to withstand intense conditions during test drives.

Thanks to the engineering-grade materials accessible on the Stratasys F900, the team were able to produce the prototype in a carbon-fibre reinforced thermoplastic, that can endure temperatures of over 140˚C.

“The prototype was as close performance-wise as if we had produced the prototype in carbon-fibre reinforced plastic made from a mould,” says Briggs. “It also withstood the tests on the track with ease.”

Today, the design team at BAC may have shifted their mindset to design with additive manufacturing but describe themselves as only being at the beginning of what the technology can offer and expect the technology to continue to help them push the boundaries of the automotive industry.

*All images courtesy of Stratasys / Briggs Automotive Company (BAC).