The BMW Group has transposed its 3D printing activities to its motorbike racing team by printing S 1000 RR World Superbike components at the curbside, on-demand. This method allows the team to quickly prototype new components at the circuit. Testing is made more efficient, which is an old story for those familiar with additive manufacturing prototyping. Full production runs on these bikes occur after the 3D-printed prototypes are fully tested before final production occurs in Munich. BMW also uses its 3D printers at races to produce non-critical parts track-side.
BMW’s use of 3D printers makes prototyping more efficient because changes in design can be immediately made after a single test. The normal production process when engineers develop new components requires computer simulation, metal or carbon manufactured parts that are installed on the motorbike, then on the racetrack.
BMW instead uses a portable additive manufacturing system. This system travels with the team, is assembled on-site in the team pit area and stands ready for use on testing and racing days.
This effort culminates in the FIM Superbike World Championship (WorldSBK), which is the apex race in BMW’s Motorrad WorldSBK team’s schedule.
“This technology allows us to make improvements to the RR quickly and efficiently. The development of a WorldSBK bike is an ongoing process and it is often the minor details that make a motorbike better,” said BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director Marc Bongers. “Behind the scenes, our engineers are always working on adjusting and optimizing individual bike components, all within the framework of changes permitted by the regulations. We can use 3D printing to implement these at the racetrack, even during race events. We then take the acquired data and the subsequent analyses – combined with comments from the drivers or input from the mechanics working on the bike itself – and generate input for the development team. This input contributes to the emergence of ideas that can be implemented directly in existing constructions or in simulations and iterative processes that lead to new constructions, all of which are executed in CAD. The new components are printed as plastic variants and their functions and ease of installation are checked on the bike. This process is now much faster than when we had to wait until the parts were produced either internally or externally and made available for evaluation at the racetrack. It is also easier to evaluate potential touching with surrounding parts or restricted access than it would be on screen.”
Traditional manufacturing would require scheduling these innovations for testing and implementation in future races. Using an additive manufacturing system allows the team to conduct real-time testing and modifications until the part precisely corresponds to its requirements.
The curbside process compresses traditional manufacturing times. First, a ‘dummy print’ is created for the component, which can then be directly evaluated and adjusted. Once the changes are made and approved, a prototype is installed on the superbike and tested. Data derived from testing refines the product, which then goes into production on individual or all team bikes.
An example from the WorldSBK double-header at Jerez (ESP) and Portimão (POR) shows how fast and efficient this procedure is. In Jerez, the linkage system of the rear shock absorber was optimized, based on the riding data. A prototype of the 3D-printed part was installed and tested. The final data was then sent to the supplier, who then used the data to manufacture a new linkage system between the race days. A few days later, in time for the start of the next race weekend at Portimão, it was available for installation on the BMW S 1000 RR. If smaller components or spare parts, which are not subject to such extreme stresses, need to be manufactured, the complete process can take place on-site with the 3D printer. Examples for such parts include adjustment levers, sensor holders and quick-release couplings.
When BMW’s portable printer cannot construct the part, its back-end team at the Additive Manufacturing Campus completes the work. The Campus provides a comprehensive range of 3D printing methods in different materials, thus expanding the team’s engineering and design capacity without compromising efficiency. These kinds of cost- and time-saving measures may give BMW’s superbike team competitive advantages on the racetrack.