3D printing overtakes McLaren F1 engineering for prototypes

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McLaren Racing says they are now 3D printing more prototype parts for their Formula 1 cars than engineering them, heralding a new era of sustainable rapid prototyping in a sport trying to get to net zero by 2030.

The team has a lab dedicated to 3D printing at their headquarters south west of London with more than 20 machines printing anything from ducts to body parts, to jigs but mostly models and prototypes for the wind tunnel.

“It’s a very efficient way of living in our environment where our average batch size is one,” Chief Operating Officer Piers Thynne told Reuters.

As many as 10 000 parts, many of which are single use, including patterns, moulds, subcomponents, tools, jigs and fixtures are needed just to design, manufacture and test an F1 car’s front wing assembly.

“When you need lots and lots of parts to come together to deliver a front wing you use all of your arsenal of manufacturing technologies to do that, and 3D printing very much plays a part in that,” Thynne said.

McLaren have partnered with Israeli-US 3D printing firm Stratasys, allowing them to print with a range of filaments including carbon fibre and recycled materials, helping reduce waste and emissions.

“Our customers are printing prototypes, for instance automotive concept parts like the steering wheel,” Yann Regeul, a senior Vice President with Stratasys, told Reuters.

“Having the ability to print 100% recycled filament with their new software OpenAM is really a change for the industry which enables them to significantly reduce their waste, which is one of the top preoccupation for most of our customers today,” he said.

Formula One aims to be net zero by 2030, and all its cars will use 100% sustainable fuel in 2026 when new engines are introduced.

However, the logistics of getting to races, for teams and fans, provide the bulk of emissions.

“In the next few weeks it goes from China to Miami, back to Europe for two races, over to Montreal in Canada, and back to Europe again. So, what needs to be looked at much more carefully is the emissions in moving the sport around the planet,” motorsport commentator Jeremy Hart told Reuters.

This season will see all 10 teams race 24 times in 22 countries round the world.