In fact, many of the earliest adopters of additive manufacturing for automotive applications weren’t car makers themselves, but the race teams they sponsor.
For decades, companies from Ford to Ferrari have used racing as an incubator for testing new technology. Many of the features that are now standard on new cars – regenerative braking systems found in hybrid vehicles, push button ignitions and even rear-view mirrors – can trace their roots to the track.
The same goes for 3D printing – especially in metal.
Formula 1 teams, World Endurance Challenge teams, Formula E teams and more have experienced first-hand how the benefits of additive manufacturing – quick iteration on designs, rapid prototyping and lightweighting of parts – can translate to improved performance on the track.
And though 3D printing has been successful on the track, its often-prohibitive cost has kept it there.
While their focus on winning makes it easy for race teams to justify the high cost of complex printed parts, it’s not until companies can cost-effectively print them that 3D printed parts will become a widespread part of automotive mass production.
In other cases, 3D printing allows engineers to create one-of-akind vehicles destined for the racetrack.