Nov 24, 2016 | By Benedict

Team Delft, the Formula Student racing team from the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, has explained how 3D printing is helping guide its cars to victory on a yearly basis. The latest version of the student-made racing car utilizes a 3D printed steering wheel and bracket.

Taking place annually in countries like the UK, Germany, and China, the Formula Student engineering competition is the world’s premier event for students interested in designing, building, and racing their own small-scale, formula-style racing cars. For the last decade, the British edition of the event has taken place at the hallowed Silverstone racing track, home of the British Grand Prix, and its reigning A Class champion is a team from the University of Stuttgart in Germany. In 2014 and 2015, however, the honors went to the team from the the Delft University of Technology, one of the competition’s most successful teams, and a regular podium finisher in the German and Austrian Formula Students events.

Although Formula Student Team Delft is, as its name suggests, a student project, the group has a history as long and decorated as many professional car manufacturers. Created back in 2001, the team has undergone many changes of personnel, with new students arriving and old ones graduating on a yearly basis. Throughout its existence, however, Team Delft has been on a mission: to create fast, efficient, and expertly designed vehicles to enter into Formula Student competitions. Jonas Holtermann, that team’s chief engineer, recently explained how 3D printing technology has helped the young team to innovate, cut costs, and drive to glory in recent years.

As one of the most successful teams in the history of the Formula Student competition, Team Delft has had to rethink and redesign its high-speed, high-efficiency vehicles year after year. In addition to constant research and testing, the adoption of new manufacturing techniques has helped the team to carry out constant upgrades, with additive manufacturing proving a particularly valuable resource in recent years. Holtermann, who is in charge of the top-level concept of the car, told Medium how Team Delft has used 3D printing to improve two important areas of its racing car: the steering wheel, and a metal bracket used to connect the steering rod to the front of the vehicle.

It should come as no surprise to learn that Team Delft, as a forward-thinking group of young engineers, has used 3D printing for several years to prototype parts for its racing car. What might be more surprising, however, is that the team has also used additive manufacturing to create end-use parts, such as the latest version of its steering wheel. Using an FFF/FDM 3D printer, Team Delft was able to create a uniquely shaped wheel, sidestepping the limitations of other manufacturing methods, and providing a design suitable to the car’s multiple drivers, some of whom prefer an “under-grip” style of handling, and some of whom favor other styles.

After trying 3D printed steering wheels made from standard PLA, the team eventually settled on a wheel made from Colorfabb XT- CF20 3D printing material, chosen because of its high flex modulus (6.2 GPa), moderate strain at break, and high level of dimensional accuracy. “The steering wheel is in a narrow space and needs to be able to deal with lots of force,” Holtermann explained. “Drivers need to be able to really dig into the shape and apply force around corners. It being strong and having a good grip instills confidence in the drivers.”

Another element of the Team Delft car that has benefitted from the distinct advantages of 3D printing is a somewhat less visible part: a bracket that connects the steering rod of the inner wheel to the front of the car. Unlike with the steering wheel, FDM 3D printing was not an option in this situation, with the critical part needing to be made from ultra-strong titanium. Due to the complex shape of the part, however, a 3D printing method was required. The only suitable option for Team Delft was Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), through which they could turn titanium powder into a complex, ultra-strong bracket.

According to Team Delft, using DMLS 3D printing has enabled the team to create the bracket as a single piece, rather than several pieces that would require welding together. This single-piece construction has helped to make the part strong, while the bottom-up method of manufacture also allowed the engineers to use a highly complex internal geometry for the part—something that would not have been possible using a casting process. “The reason we used titanium 3D printing for the part was that it simply couldn’t be made in any other way,” Holtermann said. “We needed very specific geometries for the loads that were being applied.”

With Team Delft returning from its travels with two out of three podium finishes this year, the team is already thinking about 2017, and will once again turn to 3D printing where innovation is required.

 

 

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