The National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM), a United Kingdom research center, created a high-stress automotive part using electron beam melting. This AM process is typically reserved for aerospace manufacturing. NCAM translated this aerospace technology to build a critical automotive part in a Formula-grade electrical racing vehicle for Oxford Brookes Racing. This achievement shows that the process can be applied in the high-performance automotive sector.
NCAM is a research center that specializes in developing AM in United Kingdom industries. It sponsors projects across the country to grow an ecosystem of member partners, companies of all sizes and research institutes to challenge the boundaries of AM regionally and nationally.
Oxford Brookes Racing is a Formula Student team sponsored by Oxford Brookes University. Brookes is a new university founded in 1992. It provides a general education across disciplines. Its Formula Student team designs, maintains and races Formula cars in an annual engineering and motorsports challenge. The experience derived from this program prepares students for work in high-performance motorsports; the program is sponsored by industry-leading firms like GKN and ANSYS.
NCAM’s role as a catalyst for production is on display in this latest innovation. It translates aerospace processes into the automotive sector via one of its projects, the Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing facilities for Aerospace. This research is a collaboration with aerospace research to develop high-performance AM production capacity in the UK’s aerospace sector. Aerospace is a manufacturing sector with a high prevalence of small- and medium-sized companies.
The technology developed in this partnership flowed into Brooke’s electric race car. The stresses placed on the automotive chassis resembled aerospace stresses: electric vehicles have higher torque than standard engine vehicles, which gives better acceleration. Better acceleration in a racing context stresses the automobile’s frame.
The part that NCAM helped design and build is the heart of the vehicle, so it takes greater stress. The part joins each of the car’s four electric motors to an epicyclic gearbox capable of producing 300 N-m of torque at each wheel. The force applied to each wheel on rapid acceleration required a solid part to ensure structural stability.
Core to the NCAM team’s expertise in identifying and tailoring the most appropriate technology for a specific application. In the case of the OBR part, electron beam melting (EBM) and a GE Additive Arcam EBM Q20plus were selected from a wide selection of technology at the center’s disposal. Once EBM was selected as the most appropriate, Emmanuel Muzangaza a senior research engineer at NCAM, worked closely with the OBR team on its part.
EBM systems create dimensionally accurate parts quickly and efficiently by utilizing a high-power electron beam. The process takes place in a vacuum and at high temperatures, resulting in stress-relieved components with material properties better than cast and comparable to wrought material.