Lights out and away we print…

Posted on 2 May 2024 by Molly Cooper

Bruce McLaren was the founder of the famous McLaren Formula 1 team, winning his first race in 1959 aged 22, and holding the record for youngest to do so for the next 44 years.

Despite his tragic passing at 32, Bruce left behind a group of people who continued his work in innovation and motorsport and went on to win five championships in a row, in a car he designed.

He paved the way for the future of McLaren’s design such as the carbon fibre monocoque, brake steer and F-duct. His self-taught beginnings and mind for new innovations has inspired those currently at McLaren to strive to think outside the box in Formula 1, a sport known for its incredibly strict regulations.

A partnership with Stratasys is one example of how McLaren are doing this. The company currently has 20 Stratasys 3D printers on-site at its McLaren Technology Centre in Woking. In 2023, the 3D printers produced over 24,000 components for the racing car that was used in wind tunnel testing and McLaren are continuing this CAPEX investment into the 3D printing space with Stratasys as its partner.

Molly Cooper had the opportunity to visit the McLaren Technology Centre with Stratasys to find out how its 3D printing technology is working within the Formula 1 space.

Acceleration of adoption

Stratasys, a pioneer in polymer 3D printing for over 75 years, has seen significant growth and technological advancements since its inception. With over 14,000 3D printers installed worldwide and partnerships with industry giants like Boeing and Tesla, Stratasys has established itself in additive manufacturing.

“When I joined the company ten years ago, we were mainly focused on prototyping, but the technology has evolved greatly since then. Now, we’ve moved into tooling jigs and fixtures, and have also started displacing traditional processes like injection moulding and CNC machining,” explained Yann Rageul, VP Commercial Enablement, Industrial Business Unit, Stratasys.

Stratasys’ diverse portfolio of technologies, including PolyJet, FDM, SLA, DLP and SAF, cater to different manufacturing needs, from rapid prototyping to production-grade parts. Resin-based technologies like PolyJet and SLA work best in product development and design applications, while FDM and SAF are preferred for manufacturing, offering high throughput and cost-effectiveness.

Lights out and away we print…
Stratasys Printer in the McLaren Technology Centre.

“Additive manufacturing today represents only 0.1% of all manufacturing and it is still working to traditional processes which are very rigid. We are addressing those challenges with faster solutions, better material, and a more reliable system. We are creating the complete ecosystem,” said Yann.

“When looking at the acceleration of adoption of 3D printing by the industry, it starts with the hardware. It is more reliable, more accurate and brings a lower cost that’s critical to be able to break the glass ceiling created by current, traditional technologies. It’s about making the workflow easier for the customer and reduce the labour involved in manufacturing,” said Yann. Stratasys can reduce the need for warehousing because it can create a digital inventory for companies, where they can print their components from a digital file when required. “This is a huge game changer.”

“There are few environments more gruelling than racing. Additive manufacturing can give us that feedback before we go to mass production on a certain material product application. These organisations are developing parts at a low volume, but high value. These parts could shave them a few seconds off their race time,” said Fadi Abro, Global Director of Transportation, Stratasys.

Its partners use Stratasys’ technology in vital ways, said Fadi. The first being in product development. “When companies like McLaren get an idea for an innovation they are often unable to go down traditional manufacturing routes, due to typically high value, low-cost output. Our technology can help with prototyping when they need five different versions of a spoiler, for example. They can then use these protypes in wind tunnels, which mimic the racing environment, to understand how its aerodynamics are going to perform,” he explained.

Next is production support. In racing, this means that Stratasys are helping to put the vehicle together or creating forms to create parts. “Anything that supports production but is not a prototype or an end use part, falls into this category for traditional passenger vehicles. This includes assembly aids and check fixtures, things that help you get more cars out of the factory,” said Fadi. For McLaren this is bespoke manufacturing of its road vehicles.

Partnerships with performance-driven companies like McLaren not only contribute to innovation but also facilitate testing and feedback that drive continuous improvement in additive manufacturing solutions. The collaboration between Stratasys and its partners extends to product development, production support and end-use parts, demonstrating the diverse applications and benefits of 3D printing technology across industries.

Additive manufacturing

“Additive manufacturing is a vital part of Formula 1. We have multiple suites of 3D printers, using multiple aspects of the technology. It’s fantastic to have Stratasys as a partner in this space; the customer base of additive manufacturing is about 80% for our wind tunnel and about 20% for the car,” said Piers Thynne, COO at McLaren Racing.

The printers vary in size, from making small components to one large printer being able to produce a car wing. Many of the printers are continuously running and some work over the weekend, being watched by engineers to ensure that everything runs smoothly. For McLaren, the reliability of the machines is vital. While the F1 car is at testing on a Friday, it may find an issue. Parts can be printed overnight, shipped on the Saturday morning to whenever the car is, and be ready for racing on Sunday.

The next step in the 3D printing process is for more of the later stages to be automated. This is an area which McLaren has invested significantly over the last 12 months. Therefore, once the component is off the printer it is ready to go; it only requires some degreasing. Prior to this, older printers required the printed products to be finished using rotary tools, vapours and solvents to improve the quality of the components.

Delivering performance

Piers is responsible for what happens in the factory on a day-to-day basis, looking after the operational function and commercial aspects of the team. Much of his work is focused on efficiency and how to get the most out of the team, the business and the people.

The partnership with Stratasys was chosen because it is a main customer of the wind tunnel technology and its machines are market leading in that space. “One of the things that’s also very appropriate with their technology is the machine parameters are tweakable. You can adjust settings so you can get builds faster. You can also choose surface finishes. We are all about delivering performance and getting a concept out of an aerodynamicist’s head to a test in the wind tunnel, and the Stratasys technology is very appropriate for that,” explained Piers.

In the last ten years, McLaren’s demand as a customer has transitioned from structural integrity of the product, to speed, to consistency. Now, many kinds of materials can be used and in combination, with rubberised material being used alongside solid materials. “These products are also sustainable. The recyclability of products that come out of these machines is important and everyone should be considering this because it’s not only about the experiment, we have a duty of care to also make sure we’re delivering a circular economy in this space.”

Lights out and away we print…
Piers Thynne, COO, McLaren.

Over the last 14 months, the McLaren F1 team has been through a huge phase change. In sync with that, the company has invested in two additional printers. “These were instrumental in delivering the specifics when we did our upgrades on the car last year. This technology has been paramount to delivering the CFD answer.”

Every Formula 1 team is now using 3D printing because of how well suited it is to prototyping work. “We are a prototyping organisation. The cost cap is hugely influential in terms of our decision making; we do a blend of both 3D printing in-house and out, because delivering OPEX and CAPEX is a performance decision. It is about getting the most performance for your pound,” said Piers.

Regarding the skill required from its employees, McLaren has various grades where an individual can grow through skill sets. “This allows for an individual who wants to get into Formula 1 to come through that department. With the new technologies such as 3D printing that we have introduced, every role requires the individual to be tech savvy. One of the aspects of 3D printing is there’s a programming phase, a build phase and then a finishing phase.” Right now, the printing process requires some manual work, which McLaren plans on automating. “We ensure everyone is fresh and learning within their roles which is why we have a flexible team, who are not masters of just one thing but understand what happens in multiple departments around the business,” said Piers.

Being innovative and demanding knowledge is a balancing act when working in an environment like Formula 1, as it also requires extreme secrecy and competition. Building walls around an organisation will not allow for any learning so McLaren take a different approach. “You must partner with good organisations; McLaren has become a very outward facing business. We’re having conversations with as many organisations as possible, and it has really helped us to grow. We’ve now got great relationships with lots of people who just want to help us because they believe in our journey. Some of the Industry 4.0 technology companies that are just emerging are knocking on our door. And that’s the relationship and culture, blending with performance.”

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