by Graham Pierrepoint
While 3D printing may not be the newest technology on offer, it is still absolutely fascinating – and more and more services and researchers are using it to help build electronic devices, produce items of clothing and even urns for ashes – so it was only a matter of time before the tech entered the world of sport. 3D printers may not yet be household items, but it certainly seems that they are on the way to becoming solid sources of practical support in many commercial walks of life.
Formula One racing has depended upon the work of pit crews and engineers since its very inception – from the design and manufacture of safe, lean racing machines to ensuring that teams always have an edge over the competition, the world of F1 engineering and parts manufacture is one which is remarkably dense and intricate. Certainly, those closest to the action are the most passionate about making sure their teams have the best equipment and tweaks to be able to safely win races. McLaren, it seems, are taking engineering one step further, at least when it comes to their pit crew – and here’s where we tie in 3D printing.
From the Bahrain Grand Prix next week, McLaren will start to provide their engineers with a 3D printer – so that any parts for the McLaren MCL32 in need of replacement can be designed and generated for speedy patching-up. It’s thought that the introduction of 3D printing technology, provided by Stratasys, will provide light, durable and effective F1 car technology that can be designed and created in a matter of hours and days as opposed to weeks – which may make it a gamble that could pay off rather handsomely for the F1 team. Should the tech be successful, it may even spur a revolution in the way that manufacturing occurs behind the scenes – increasing the efficiency of parts creation in ways that have never been considered before.
Just one race in, McLaren have yet to score in the current F1 championship, with both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing mid-grid in Australia with zero points apiece. McLaren alumni Lewis Hamilton, driving for Mercedes, finished 2nd behind Ferrari’s triumphant Sebastian Vettel and ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Will the 3D printing technology give McLaren the boost up the rankings they need? Let’s wait and see what happens in Bahrain!