Additive Goes Racing

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Brian Levy is a design engineer at Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).

Which means for him, time is always of the essence.

In the Sprint Cup Series, JGR campaigns four teams: Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Matt Kenseth.

The Sprint Cup Series starts in February. It ends in November. They’re racing nearly every weekend in between.

Levy says that each team has two cars that it takes to the track. That means eight cars. He also says that there are eight cars that are on their way back to the shop in Huntersville, North Carolina.

And there are an additional eight cars that are being prepped for the next race.

Anyone who has watched a NASCAR race knows that there is a lot of wear and tear on the vehicles. Even to the extent of being accidentally crumpled.

What’s more, there is an array of tracks, ranging from superspeedways to road courses. This means that the setups for the cars are different. In addition to which, the drivers can want the gauges in their cars, for example, to be arranged in particular ways, depending on the track.

All of which means that Levy and his colleagues have a lot of work to do in very little time.

And Levy says that one of the ways that they’re able to not only produce parts rapidly, but also accurately and quickly assemble the largely tubular frames, is through the use of additive manufacturing technology.

According to Levy, JGR has been using additive for about 10 years. Five years ago, he says, approximately 75% of the time on the machine was spent building prototype parts, 20% for jigs and fixtures, and 5% for end-use parts, that has changed. Today it is 50% prototyping. 30% jigs and fixtures. 20% end-use parts.

The jigs and fixtures are used to create the chassis. There are some 100 round and rectangular tubes that must meet specific NASCAR-mandated locations. So what they do is use their Dimension 1200es or Fortus 450 mc machine, both from Stratasys (stratasys.com), to print the locating components for the fixtures. (They also have an Objet Connex machine, also from Stratasys, to make smaller, higher-resolution parts.)

Levy says that NASCAR uses a coordinate measuring arm to check that the chassis parts are where they are supposed to be. “With the pace we move at, we don’t have the time to fail inspection.” 

They use the machines to create molds for various parts. For example, there’s the brake duct, which Levy describes as being a very complex, organic shape (it has to fit in a tight area within the car). “If we had to make the molds conventionally, we would need a multi-axis machine and a week to program it,” Levy says.

Instead, they use additive.

Depending on the part, they either make a form and lay carbon fiber material over it, or they make a female mold and place the material into it.

As for end-use parts, there are battery case covers. Depending on the type of track, the size of the battery changes in the vehicle. There are also dashboard inserts produced. These are for locating the gauges on the dash for the drivers, with each having his own preference.—GSV