Abbott Iowa

INDYCAR keeps its cool in race against time with 3D printing.

aaron pearson
Aaron Pearson September 03, 2020
September 03, 2020
INDYCAR racing is physically challenging, even for the most trained athletes. Just ask the drivers who competed in the GMR Grand Prix July 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). High summertime temperatures, combined with a decrease of air circulation in the driver cockpit as a result of a new safety enhancement called the Aeroscreen, made for an especially sweaty Saturday.

The new Aeroscreen is a shield-like barrier around the cockpit to help protect the driver. Engineers knew this would reduce air circulation, so they were already working on ways to increase cooling using 3D-printed air ducts that route air to the driver’s helmet to provide some relief. These ducts are a great example of motorsports’ increasing emphasis on additive manufacturing for quick, effective solutions.

According to Kory Drake, an Indy Performance Composites product design engineer who collaborated on the air duct, 3D printing opens up a whole new world.

“We are able to go from an idea to something tangible in a short timeframe that’s not possible with any other technology,” Drake said. “When we were presented with this project, it made all the sense in the world to 3D print it.”

In fact, ducts for all the INDYCAR vehicles were 3D printed since limited production runs aren’t economical with traditional manufacturing.
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However, after the conditions at the GMR Grand Prix, INDYCAR quickly realized more work needed to be done. With two doubleheader race weekends fast approaching, Stratasys Performance Partners, Team Penske, Arrow McLaren SP, Andretti Autosport and INDYCAR collaborated on a new “scoop” to provide even more cool air into the cockpit.

But designing the fix was only a partial solution – the bigger challenge was getting scoops made for all 24 cars and installed in time for the Iowa 250s race in less than a week.

In a situation like this, there’s only one viable option, and once again it was 3D printing. INDYCAR contacted 3D-printing solutions provider Stratasys for help making the new scoops, and within a matter of hours, the company had a batch of 10 FDM® 3D printers online, building the new scoops with ASA thermoplastic material.

“We looked at the design file and saw that it wouldn’t take much material or time, so we could easily handle the request,” said Allen Kreemer, Stratasys senior strategic applications engineer.

Each scoop took about nine hours to print, and in roughly 48 hours, Kreemer had enough scoops for all the cars, plus a few spares. He didn’t have to sacrifice too much weekend time at the lab to get the job done, either. The latest GrabCAD Print software from Stratasys made it easy to not only quickly set up the print tasks but also monitor them from home on a mobile app to make sure the deadline would be hit.

“Without additive manufacturing, it would have taken us a minimum of two full weeks to produce 24 of these ducts,” said Tino Belli, director of aerodynamic development at INDYCAR. “Stratasys got the CAD Sunday morning, and by Wednesday, 24 cars were equipped with the ducts and on the way to the Iowa race. It was miraculous.”

The Iowa 250s doubleheader race was a success, and Team Penske won both races to sweep the weekend. The 3D-printed scoops performed as designed and increased the airflow to the driver cockpit. You could also say it was a win for 3D printing, as well. Quick-turning production parts at a reasonable cost is right in 3D printing’s wheelhouse. So is the ability to quickly iterate and get the best designs to the racetrack as fast as possible. When the traditional supply chains can’t do it or break down, additive manufacturing has shown that it has the winning formula to fill the gap.