The process is today helping automakers shape the things to come, both on and off-track, as the technology advancements allow them to deliver prototypes faster and have parts easier and cheaper to manufacture.
For example, the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford prototype competing during the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race at the Belle Isle Grand Prix in Detroit will be powered by a Ford EcoBoost engine, which has around 70 percent of the twin-turbo V6’s parts taken off the street models without any modifications. But among the ones modified to suit the track’s needs there’s an intake manifold that first existed as a digital file – as Ford has decided to use 3D printing instead of the traditional process of conventional manufacturing for it and certain other components. “3D computer printers have totally changed the development process for our Daytona Prototype race cars,” said Victor Martinez, 3.5-liter EcoBoost race engine engineer. “3D printing has advanced at such lightning speed in recent years that in a matter of hours, we can create real, usable parts for race cars. That’s exactly what we did for the 24 Hours of Daytona earlier this year.” Better known as 3 D printing but actually named stereolithography, the process uses digital Computer Aided Design, or CAD, files that are turned into objects by using lasers to cut, form and mold the given materials – from resin to titanium powder.
The technology can find uses from everyday life – such as printing a new back for your smartphone – to medical practices or to the military, which can use it to deliver crucial parts for vehicles in the heat of battle, instead of waiting for the supply chain.