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3D-printing takes to the racing track

11 October 2012

Competing in the prestigious Formula Student 2012 challenge, a 16-strong team of next-generation engineers from the Belgian Group T has unveiled what is believed to be the world’s first racing car created largely via 3D printing techniques. The Areion - named after the swift, immortal horse of Greek mythology - is both innovative in terms of its design and method of construction and a good example of the use of green technologies.

Back in July, Areion lived up to its name on the Hockenheim race circuit by going from zero to 100km/h in just four seconds and achieving a top speed of 141km/h on the track. Advanced technologies adopted for this eco-friendly racing car included an electric drive train, bio-composite materials of construction and, of course, additive manufacturing on a grand scale.

Using Materialise’s ‘Mammoth’ stereolithography machines the Formula Group T team were able not only to print the entire body of the car, but also to integrate some novel features directly into the design. Mammoth systems offer not only the ability to print very large parts, but are also extremely fast and productive thanks to a patented curtain re-coating technology, which minimises the dead time between layers. Mammoth parts are constructed layer by layer in a liquid polymer that hardens when exposed to a laser beam. Working alongside engineers from Materialise, the team went from initial shell design to a fully finished 3D printed car body in just three weeks.

Starting from Formula Group T’s design for the outer shell, engineers at Materialise quickly got to work. Within a week, they had applied their experience from other projects to the creation of a 3D printed car body with integrated clips and connection points. The design makes the assembly of the shell easier and provides faster access to the innermost parts of the car for maintenance purposes. 

Printed directly on the nose of the racing car is a shark skin texture, similar to that used for high-tech competition swimsuits. As with the swimsuits, the aim of the teeth-like ridges is to reduce drag, increase thrust, and improve performance.

Whether or not the texture helped Areion cut through the air is still to be determined, but one thing is sure – the shark skin texture gave the nose of the car aesthetic appeal!

Both the right and left side pods were designed and printed with complex cooling channels. Printed into the left side pod are two components: a nozzle behind the radiator and a diffuser, these improve the cooling effort by creating an optimum flow of air through the radiator. A fan is installed behind the radiator in order to do this, even at low speeds and while the car is stationary. In the right side pod, complex channels were developed and printed to create a cyclone effect that removes water and dirt from the air before it enters the engine compartment.

With two races completed, the Formula Group T team is already the proud winner of two awards - an impressive achievement for a first-time team in this competition. In the UK at the Silverstone racing circuit, the team was honoured with the Best Teamwork Award by Airbus, while Koen Huybrechts, who was responsible for the drivetrain, won the Craig Dawson most valuable team member award. And in Germany at the Hockenheim racing circuit, the team finished in a well-deserved 11th position and found themselves among other top teams in this international competition. 

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