Since its introduction Rapid Prototyping has become an important tool in the Automotive design process, allowing designers and engineers to identify production pitfalls, and gauge consumer reaction early in the product development cycle. A physical model of automotive parts can be produced within days providing engineers with the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of a design, as they pass it around, twisting and viewing the prototype model.
Recent developments in the range of materials available have led to the introduction of Rapid Prototyping technology into the production process, particularly in the field of Formula1 design where designs modification is required between races to make sure optimal performance.
Since 2004 Aston Martin Racing, a joint venture between Aston Martin and Prodrive, has been designing and building successful race production based sports cars. Lead times have proven crucial with a development schedule of just 6 months, making the use of Rapid Prototyping a “no brainer” got the teams Technical Director George Howard-Chappell as engine parts and driver controls could be printed in a matter of days. Early chassis mock ups could also be created to ensure maximum efficiency and that all designs met the 2011 Le Mans regulations.
Using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) the University of Ulster Formula Student team successfully designed and produced air inlay manifolds capable of withstanding demanding testing, and in race conditions (with the engine reaching up to 13,000 rev/min during the testing process).
Automotive manufacturers Chrysler along with Fords luxury marque Mercury have also turned to Rapid Prototyping as a production tool, with both firms using Vacuum Casting and Reaction Injection Moulding for the low volume production of lighting assemblies.
Developments in the range of materials available have increased functionality of prototype models and its is likely that SLA resins such as Bluestone, CeraMAX and NanoTool will see the Automotive Industrys interest in Rapid Prototyping technologies continue to rise.
This trio of Sterolithography materials offer exceptional thermal and moisture resistance. Ceramic based Bluestone and CeraMAX are suitable for fluid handling components or where moisture stability is required, while NanoTool offers excellent abrasion resistance even in the most demanding of test conditions. Suitable for under bonnet applications along with wind tunnel applications these resins are proving popular among automotive designers.
With research ongoing into the range of materials and processes it is likely just a matter of time before Rapid Prototyping becomes a mainstream production tool.