May 30, 2015 | By Simon

While it’s commonly known that 3D printing has been used to help designers and engineers develop products over a series of iterations that can be made in three-dimensional form rather than in two-dimensional hand sketches, the use of the technology in the automotive industry is perhaps one area where the process is used to create actual finished parts rather than just the prototypes.  

Among other reasons, the process helps automotive makers quickly redesign components and test them on actual cars without the need to send a part into full production.  Of course, theses performance parts aren’t made on your average desktop 3D printer; they’re made using more complex laser sintering methods that produce more durable parts.

Recently, this process of using 3D printing to create custom automotive components helped Ford Motors easily redesign the intake manifold on their Ford EcoBoost race engine, which was used at the 24 Hours of Daytona race earlier this year and won.  The team that runs the Ford EcoBoost Riley Daytona Prototype, Chip Ganassi Racing, is heading to the Belle Isle Racetrack in Michigan this weekend and will be taking their 3D printed manifold with them again to try and grab the win.  

"3D computer printers have totally changed the development process for our Daytona Prototype race cars," said Victor Martinez, 3.5L EcoBoost race engine engineer for Ford EcoBoost race engine. "3D printing has advanced at such lightning speed in recent years that in a matter of hours, we can create real, usable parts for race cars. That's exactly what we did for the 24 Hours of Daytona earlier this year."

This isn’t the first time that Ford has found success with using 3D printed parts, either.  The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker purchased the world’s first-ever 3D printer nearly 30 years ago - in 1988 - and have since used the technology to create everything from buttons and switches for interiors to scale models of concept cars that are currently in a prototype stage.  Only now is the company able to see additive manufacturing technologies being used to reliably print performance car parts time and time again.  

As for the intake manifold, which was created after Ford decided to redesign the part at the end of the 2014 TUDOR season, was designed by engineers within a week.   

"We have the ability to design an entirely new part and, one week later, have that part in hand," said Martinez. "This lets the engineers who develop our cars – both for road and track – spend more time testing, tuning and refining."

Computer-aided design mockups are sent to Ford's rapid prototype lab where they are analyzed and input into one of many 3D printers. Roughly one week later, a finished product is ready to be cleaned, painted and used.

“In order to rapidly prototype and prove them out, we 3D printed several intakes and tested them on our dyno and verified performance on the track,” said Ford Racing engine engineer Victor Martinez.  “The iterations we created based on the 2014 intake manifold accelerated the development on our 2015 manifold – which is both lighter and brings improved airflow.”

After thorough testing, the original prototype of the manifold exceeded the team’s expectations and at the last minute, they decided to use the 3D printed prototype on their EcoBoost Riley prototype in time for the 24 Hours of Daytona earlier this year.  

"We modified our intake with carbon fiber components, painted it, and then it was ready to go to the track." saud Martinez.

Thanks in part to an all-star line up of drivers on the team including Scott Dixon, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Tony Kanaan, the team took the checkered flag - all while using a 3D printed intake manifold.

Now, Ford aims to repeat this performance at the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race at the Belle Isle Grand Prix on May 30.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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