Jan 20, 2017 | By Benedict

Engineers at the University of Nottingham in the UK are using 3D printing to develop lightweight automotive components, boosting vehicle fuel efficiency while reducing noise and CO2 emissions, as part of the ongoing ‘FLAC’ project. The parts are being made with SLM 3D printers.

The 3D printed car parts will use triply periodic minimal surface (TPMS) lattice structures

For audiophiles and online music lovers, the acronym “FLAC” means, and will always mean, “Free Lossless Audio Codec,” a high-quality audio format that is clearer than MP3s. For those in the 3D printing world, however, “FLAC” could soon have a new meaning. “Functional Lattices for Automotive Components,” or “FLAC” for short, is the name of a 3D printing project organized by engineers at the University of Nottingham, who are attempting to develop 3D printed automotive components that could benefit UK car manufacturers. But where the FLAC audio format produces large, unwieldy files that clog up your hard drive, these 3D printed automotive components are decidedly nimble. Made using selective laser melting (SLM) 3D printers, the parts are both lightweight and efficient, requiring minimal material to produce.

According to the Nottingham engineers, who are being steered in the right direction by Chris Tuck,  Professor of Materials Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering, these metal 3D printed auto components could be 40 to 80 percent lighter than the parts they are designed to replace. Moreover, the digital design methods used to produce them could result in optimized thermo-mechanical performance, not to mention a huge reduction in material wastage. Since additive manufacturing does not entail parts being “cut down” from a larger piece of metal, only the bare minimum of metal powder is required.

The benefits to using additive manufacturing to produce such car parts are numerous. Environmental advantages include the inherent recyclability of the aluminum powder waste, reduced transportation, and the elimination of special tooling and hazardous cutting fluids. Because of this, and because of the high quality of parts than can be produced using SLM 3D printing techniques, the Nottingham engineers believe that SLM is a viable process for the automotive industry. They will aim to prove as much through the FLAC project, which has secured £368,286 from Innovate UK, a government-run innovation fund.

Since FLAC is being funded by a governmental organization, a key concern for the project is delivery technological solutions for UK-based car manufacturers, who, with lightweight 3D printed components in their catalogue, could improve their position in the global market. “FLAC will benefit UK automotive companies, increasing their competitiveness by allowing them to adopt innovative routes for the design and manufacture of lightweight on-vehicle componentry, with shorter lead times and lower costs than are presently available,” Tuck commented.

Another triply periodic minimal surface lattice structure, the secret to lightweight 3D printed parts

Tuck and co say that they will use SLM 3D printers to create lightweight, efficient components such as brake calipers, heat sinks for LED headlights, and power train sub-systems, all of which could be targeted at the luxury car and motorsport markets. The weight reduction and efficiency increases will be the result of complex lattice geometries internal to the components; these patterns could not be made using subtractive manufacturing techniques. Additionally, the FLAC organizers say these parts could deliver a decrease in CO2 emissions by 16.97g/km.

“The automotive sector is one of the UK’s leading export sectors by value, representing around 6.3 per cent of all UK exports,” Tuck added. “Successful delivery of FLAC’s portfolio will enhance the R&D leadership in the key automotive technologies, and strengthen the UK automotive supply chain, resulting in increased revenues to the UK economy and government.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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