Lotus F1 Team uses 3D Systems’ Solutions to Race by Competition

“In Formula 1, aerodynamics is an empirical science. We design and compare new ideas and choose directions to follow. The more ideas we can compare and evaluate, the more successful we are on the race track.”

Before partnering with 3D Systems in 1998, the Lotus F1 racing team built its wind tunnel models out of carbon fiber, epoxy board and metal. Constructing these models was a taxing process for the Team and was a demanding workload for their machines. Despite these time-consuming and labor-intensive methods, however, turnaround deadlines were invariably short and therefore difficult to meet.

Once the F1 team got their SLA® 5000 System, they began using it to develop component prototypes with a size-fit function. The use of solid imaging technology then gradually expanded from rapid prototyping to wind tunnel model manufacturing, and finally to the direct manufacture of production parts for testing and racing. The first SLA® System parts were installed in a racecar in 2001 and following their success, Lotus opened its first Advanced Digital Manufacturing (ADM) Center in 2002. Lotus now has five of these centers and houses five SLA® 7000 Systems, one Sinterstation® Pro SLS® System, one Sinterstation® Viper™ Pro SLA ® System and two Sinterstation® HiQ™ SLS® Systems, which produce car parts.

Since incorporating 3D printing, the Aerodynamics Department manufacturing wind tunnel models has created jobs, expanding from 19 to 70 employees. As F1 becomes increasingly reliant on aerodynamic improvements for performance gains, demands for more iterations for testing have risen dramatically. 3D Systems’ technologies have become an effective new manufacturing process for Lotus to reduce both cycle times and cost, and has added invaluable benefit to Lotus’ new ability to manufacture multiple iterations of the same part simultaneously. Enabled by the Digital Age, the Lotus Team tested 14,000 aerodynamics solutions last year. These components were produced directly from CAD designs, making them unbeatably accurate, with complex geometry features that were previously unattainable. Because designers are now able to function on functionality rather than the capabilities and restrictions of manufacturing tools, these parts also produce better testing data.

Keeping a Competitive Advantage

The Lotus F1 Team works year-round to maintain its competitive advantage, and evolves its car continuously during racing season. After each circuit, the car undergoes general changes for improvements, as well as tweaks that take into account the different track layouts, ambient temperature and anticipated weather conditions on race day. “At the end of the year, we are approximately a second per lap quicker than when we started,” said Bob Bell, Chassis Technical Director. “In motor racing, you can’t put a price on how much that is worth. Aerodynamics is easily the most cost-effective way to extract performance, and 3D Systems’ technologies are now an essential part of our aero development.”

Delivering Fast Results

The Lotus F1 Team can build some of its parts directly from digital data using CAD and SLS® technology. Designers electronically flag a design as complete and send it, along with the material selection, to the ADM Department. Using SLS, car components are produced in hours rather than weeks, and in some cases the part is ready for inspection before the drawing has even passed through the system.

The Lotus Team produces performance-enhancing gearbox and suspension components via accurate casting patterns, and can be more creative with their part design now that restrictions on permissible complexities have been removed. The SLA® process follows the exact blueprint of their CAD designs, and because the process is so accurate, time is saved on proof machining for the finished casting.

Looking to the Future

To reduce cycle time and cost, Lotus’ ultimate goal is to use Advanced Digital Manufacturing as a fully industrialized technology to deliver race-ready car parts in volume. Lotus is especially looking forward to 3D Systems’ development of materials that can withstand its under-the-hood tests. The intense temperatures of F1 present a high hurdle (average racecar temperatures are 250 degrees Celsius with cockpits as hot as 80 degrees Celsius), but like F1, 3D Systems’ technologies are ever-evolving.

More information on the Lotus F1 Team is available at lotusf1team.com