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Customer Spotlight: College Students Go From 0 to 60 with FDM 3D Printing

September 22, 2022 News

In early 2022, an automotive engineering technology student and Formula SAE Engine Team Leader at Minnesota State University Mankato, contacted AdvancedTek to see if we could assist his team by 3D printing some large parts for their University capstone project. The project required them to build a functional formula-style race car to compete with over 100 other universities. We enjoy working with future engineers and helping people solve complex problems, plus this challenge sounded like fun, so we agreed (it didn’t hurt that we have a few motorheads and Mankato alums on the AdvancedTek team).

Formula SAE Competition

The Formula SAE Competition challenges SAE (Science, Engineering & Technology) student members to fund raise, conceive, design, fabricate, and compete among themselves with small formula-style racing cars. The design of the car frame and engine must fall within strict guidelines to control costs and reward knowledge, creativity, and imagination. Teams build their cars over a period of about one year and then take them to the event in Brooklyn, MI, to compete with colleges and universities worldwide. The end result is a meaningful engineering project experience for young engineers and the opportunity to work in a dedicated team effort.

Manufacturing the Car

The team at Mankato State had several tools at their disposal for this project, including CNC machines, injection molding machines, lathes, 3D printers, and more. Most of the components were made from steel and other metals, but plastic 3D printing played a key role.

The University owning a Stratasys F370 3D printer allowed the team to easily print parts for form and fit checks early in the design process. Having accurate representations of the final parts before they’re manufactured helps identify potential problems, saving time and money. No one likes the surprise when a part is manufactured and doesn’t work properly.

They printed hubs, uprights, and suspension rods and used the tactile feedback to better refine the designs to produce the best parts possible. This advantage helped them create a better car while reducing costs and keeping the project on schedule.

Their vehicle was coming together nicely, but there were a few parts they had trouble manufacturing within the constraints of the program.

Due to the unique size and shape of the engine intake system, the students identified 3D printing as a potential solution for the actual production components. 3D printing provides the most design freedom to experiment with complex shapes and internal structures but to make these parts, they needed help.

While their F370 was great for producing prototypes, test-fit models, and some production components, the engine intake system would require a printer with a larger build volume and specialty materials that could withstand high temperatures and contact with fuel. In addition to technology needs, it was also important for them to find a partner who was an expert in 3D printing to help them identify the best materials and technology to get the desired result.

That’s when their engine team leader reached out to AdvancedTek to see if we could help, and we happily agreed. We got to work with the team to learn more about their needs so we could help get their car on the track. Through our brainstorming sessions, we determined a list of parts that could be 3D printed using Stratasys FDM (fused deposition modeling) technology: the inlet, main plenum, and four tubes to each cylinder.

Because 3D printing essentially grows a part from the bottom up, it allows for the creation of very complex structures that wouldn’t be possible with traditional manufacturing methods. An example of this is the ability to combine multiple individual components into a single 3D printed assembly. AdvancedTek used its large format Stratasys F450 3D printer to create one of these assemblies for the car, which reduced production and installation time. The complex shape was designed to fit perfectly into the car’s small frame and led to performance improvements from weight reduction.

For the parts that would be exposed to higher temperatures and fuel, it was determined that Carbon Fiber-Filled Nylon 12 with an epoxy coating was the best solution. AdvancedTek printed these parts, the SAE team coated them in epoxy, inserted press-fit threads for assembly, and installed them directly into the car. This installation was one of the final pieces in the fabrication and assembly process, and soon, the vehicle was ready to hit the track.

Now, for the information you’ve all been waiting for. The results!

“The 2021-22 Minnesota State University, Mankato Formula SAE team competed at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI. This year, we managed to place 39th overall out of ~100 teams, though we were on pace to place in the top 15 until an unfortunate and unforeseen steering shaft failure caused us to not finish the endurance event on the last day of competition. With only nine seniors on the project this year, we are still very proud of the car we have made, though we all hoped for that top 15 outcome.”

AdvancedTek is proud to have partnered with the MSU Formula SAE team to support their project. We are outcome driven and want our customers and partners to succeed, so we center our mission around this. We want you to succeed and have the tools and skill set to help you get there. Let’s connect today!

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Posted by Heather Adams