Imagine you are a race team competing at the world level.  Your machines need to have the best parts and tech to win races.  But the circuits you race on a scattered throughout the world, and your access to your factory can be days away while the next session is only hours off.  That is, unless you can 3D print your new parts right at the circuit.

3D Printing capability

So in that regard, BMW’s World Superbike team doesn’t have a problem.  The BMW team uses 3D printing, which “enables fast and efficient production of new prototype components right at the circuit.”  And if the component works well on BMW’s S 1000 RR World Superbike, the team can send it digitally to the factory to use with production motorcycles.

BMW 3D printing

Test fitting shock linkage courtesy of 3D printing.

This method is nearly the reverse of the normal process.  Traditionally, engineers develop new components at the factory.  Then the new components go through computer simulations.  If the engineers think that the part will be helpful, it can be produced in metal or carbon.  Later, the team can then install the part and test it on the track.

But BMW now has a portable 3D printing capability that travels to each circuit in the team truck. Upon arrival, the printer is assembled in the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team pit area for use throughout the event.

New capabilities

BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director Marc Bongers is enthusiastic about the team’s new capability.

“This technology allows us to make improvements to the RR quickly and efficiently. The development of a WorldSBK bike is an ongoing process and it is often the minor details that make a motorbike better.  Behind the scenes, our engineers are always working on adjusting and optimising individual bike components, all within the framework of changes permitted by the regulations.

We can use 3D printing to implement these at the racetrack, even during race events. We then take the acquired data and the subsequent analyses – combined with comments from the drivers or input from the mechanics working on the bike itself – and generate input for the development team.

This input contributes to the emergence of ideas that can be implemented directly in existing constructions or in simulations and iterative processes that lead to new constructions, all of which are executed in CAD. The new components are printed as plastic variants and their functions and ease of installation are checked on the bike.

Faster process

This process is now much faster than when we had to wait until the parts were produced either internally or externally and made available for evaluation at the racetrack. It is also easier to evaluate potential touching with surrounding parts or restricted access than it would be on screen.

BMW 3D printing

BMW can design, develop and 3D print parts right at the racing circuit.

Another advantage is if an adjustment is required, it can often be made to the existing plastic part and then implemented in CAD. This process can be swiftly repeated as often as required, until the part corresponds 100 percent to the requirements.

First, a ‘dummy print’ is created for the component which then can be directly evaluated and adjusted.  Normally, you have finished components that you have developed with calculation, construction and simulation, and which you then evaluate during testing or on race weekends.  The risk is always that, as the complete package becomes ever more complex, errors in construction, difficulties with installation or access to the part can be overlooked.”

“3D printing allows us to create parts quickly and cost-effectively, and to optimise this during the ongoing process. As soon as we have the part just as we need it, we send the final data to the workshop, which then manufactures it for competitive racing from a suitable material, normally metal or carbon.”

3D Printing advantages

BMW points out how much of an advantage 3D printing can be.  As an example, they cite the recent double-header Jerez and Portimão WorldSBK events.   At Jerez, the team needed to optimize the linkage system for the rear shock absorber.  Using riding data from previous sessions, the team was able to develop, install, and test a prototype 3D printed part.

A supplier can then use the final design data to manufacture a new linkage between race days.  Ultimately, the new linkage was available and installed for the next race weekend in Portimão.

BMW 3D printing

An example of both a 3D printed and a metal shock linkage.

Smaller components or parts that are not subject to extreme stress can be manufactured on-site during the race weekend.  BMW says that parts like adjustment levers, sensor mounts, and quick release couplings can all be produced at the track.

BMW Additive Manufacturing Campus (AMC)

If the racetrack 3D printer does not have the capability, there’s an answer.  BMW’s in-house Additive Manufacturing Campus (AMC) has more capability.  The AMC can use a wider range of printing methods and materials.  It can produce parts in plastic or metal.  Examples of the AMC’s capability include brake ventilation in plastics reinforced with carbon fiber.  Complex molded parts, titanium crash pads, aluminum distributor boxes, and aerodynamic trim parts can also be 3d printed.

The world of racing is changing rapidly.  Technology and the ability to implement changes quickly are key components in keeping up.  BMW’s 3D printing facilities are just one example of how racing continues to evolve.


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