Published on April 30th, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
How BMW brings 3D Printing to Motorsports
3D Printing is one of the newest forms of production, with a large variation in terms of quality, speed, and strength of the end result. But the potential applications for this process are staggering, simply by virtue of being superior in terms of manipulating material.
Where casting or milling has limitations in terms of the shape of the die and the degrees of freedom of the CNC machine in question, 3D printing allows for very complex shapes that would not normally be possible. For as long as these processes have been in use, the only way to produce a complex shape beyond the scope of the production method was to produce multiple parts and join them.
But 3D printing changes all that. And while 3D printing has mostly been used for rapid prototyping of components that don’t necessarily stand up to automotive levels of use and abuse, the techniques involved in 3D printing have been advancing quickly over the years.
And BMW was the first company to bring the world of 3D printing to one of the most strenuous areas of automotive engineering: motorsports. Race cars are subject to far more extreme loads than your average road car, and for a much longer duration. Starting this program back in 2010, BMW has employed a 3D-printed water pump for their engines in most of their race cars.
Those who know BMW engineering well will be familiar with the plastic water pumps that come in the road cars. Up until 2010, this plastic component was also in use for their race cars, but the development of SLM 3D Printing (a selective laser-based process that builds a component out of microscopic layers of metal) has allowed BMW to create a component strong enough to withstand the rigours of the racetrack.
After 5 years of employment, BMW has produced the 500th 3D Printed water pump for use in their race cars. For now the technology is a little too expensive and a little too slow to be used for mass production applications, but as the cost of technology drops and more car manufacturers become interested in the technology, expect to see 3D printing as a normal part of the manufacturing process.