How Renault F1 uses Advanced Digital Manufacturing to enhance competitiveness

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July 3, 2005 Renault’s Formula 1 team has made massive headway in recent years, coming from a distant third place in the 2004 Formula 1 constructors title to dominate the 2005 title to date. Now before you skip over this story thinking it’s about motor racing, it’s not – it’s about Advanced Digital Manufacturing. Renault’s F1 budget is considerably less than Ferrari or Toyota yet it has won six of ten races this year. Earlier this week it was revealed that the team had installed a Sinterstation Pro SLS rapid 3-D printing, prototyping and manufacturing system at its Advanced Digital Manufacturing (ADM) Centre in Enstone, England. This is the first of these systems to be installed in Europe and Renault has found that it has reduced the time taken to manufacture a part for the F1 car by an incredible 90% - quite an advantage in a world where a tenth of a second a lap can make the difference between winners and losers.

Even in the stellar world of Formula 1, there’s only so much money you can spend. Renault has a rich tradition of auto racing excellence that dates back to the origins of the sport and includes victories at the Le Mans 24 Hours, and six consecutive constructors' world titles as an F1 engine supplier in the 1990s. It is not however there to fly the flag - the Renault F1 Team exists with a singular purpose: to win the Formula 1 World Championship and it has a budget and the budget needs to be spent very judiciously to become and remain competitive against the financial firepower of Ferrari and Toyota in particular and the rest of the incredibly capable top-line teams such as McLaren/Mercedes, Williams/BMW and BAR/Honda.

The team returned to Formula 1 in 2002 when it purchased the Benetton F1 team for US$120 million and began the long road back to the fore of the most competitive and expensive sport in history. The team finished fourth in 2002 a long way behind Ferrari, Williams and McLaren, had a similar result in 2003. The team’s first win was to Fernando Alonso in 2003 in Hungary then another to Jarno Trulli at the Monaco GP in 2004 – 2004 was to be the year it started to come together as the team was one of the surprise contenders for second place in the 2004 constructors title behind the rampant Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.

Just the same, no-one expected what would happen this year, when the marque won the first four Grands Prix, and remains the odds-on favourite for the drivers title and a short-priced favourite for the constructors title.

The team is composed of two central technical hubs, a chassis team based in Oxfordshire, England, and the engine development team based near Paris, France. Together, this group of over 700 people forms one of the leading teams in modern Formula 1, the most demanding discipline in world motorsports.

The Renault F1 ADM Centre supports all its Formula 1 design, wind tunnel, full-scale application and production molds, patterns and parts for the Renault F1 Team racecar.

"Rapid direct manufacturing plays a significant role in the development and manufacturing of our racing cars," said John Mardle, Renault F1 Team Operations Director. "Because the Sinterstation Pro SLS system was designed as a true manufacturing system, it is an ideal addition to our ADM Centre. With substantially greater build capacity, tighter closed-loop controls and automated materials delivery and tracking available on the new system, we expect to produce larger parts, components and patterns even faster than we do now in support of our rapid development and rigorous on-track testing iterations and to manufacture more and more on-car, ready-for-race parts directly on our newly acquired Sinterstation Pro."

"We know that there is a direct correlation between how many parts we test in the Wind Tunnel and the level of competitiveness we reach on the track," said Bob Bell, Technical Director for Renault F1 Team. "In 2004, we tested 13,000 stereolithography wind tunnel car components thanks to the gains in speed and efficiency brought to us by technology from 3D Systems, enabling us to continue improving on-track performance until the final races of the season. In addition to this, we use QuickCast patterns to manufacture our titanium investment castings."

"When we introduced SLS technology in our Advanced Digital Manufacturing Centre last year, we found that it gave us the ability to produce specific car components in tenths of the time it used to take with traditional injection moulds, and all our on-car rubber components are now manufactured using LaserForm A6 tools. The addition of the new Sinterstation Pro will enable us to increase our production speeds and expand our SLS part utilization realizing significant time and cost savings," concluded Bell.

3D Systems' new Sinterstation Pro SLS systems, Models 140 and 230, feature intelligent process controls, modular design, automated powder handling, and the largest available laser sintering build volume. Designed to meet the demands of end-use part manufacturing, these new systems offer excellent and repeatable part quality, significantly reduced labor intensity, clean and environmentally friendly processing, and accelerated throughput. Equipped with 3D Systems' new Sinterstation Pro system, customers can cost-effectively manufacture medium quantities of plastic parts for a variety of applications, particularly in the aerospace, electronics and medical industries, and build large, functional prototypes, molds and patterns for automotive and consumer product applications.

"We are very pleased to have Renault F1 Team as our first Sinterstation Pro customer in Europe," said Abe Reichental, 3D Systems' president and chief executive officer. "Understanding the importance of speed in the racing world, 3D Systems and the Renault F1 Team partnered to create unique rapid design and manufacturing capabilities enabling the Team to dramatically reduce its design cost and time."

"Working in a fiercely competitive environment, the Renault F1 Team continuously pushes the use of our rapid prototyping and manufacturing technology through rigid materials' testing to the manufacturing of parts used directly on the race car. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work very closely with leading-edge customers like the Renault F1 Team in Europe, INCS in Japan and Harvest in the U.S. and to deliver expert rapid manufacturing solutions that enable their success, improve their overall performance and enhance their competitive posture. Innovative partners like the Renault F1 Team, INCS and Harvest provide us a glimpse of future alternative manufacturing solutions for the entire automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics and other industries," concluded Reichental.

In addition to the newly commissioned Sinterstation Pro system, the ADM Centre operates five SLA 7000 systems and two Vanguard HS SLS systems.

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