Nowhere has this advantage been used to greater effect than into F1 racing. “Consider an F1 car as a prototype; nothing is the fixed,” said Paul Monaghan, chief engineer for Red Bull’s F1 team. Teams can now customize parts to specific tracks and weather conditions, for instance dialing into a precise amount of downforce for a rear wing. The fraction of a second improvement it may provide matters. “Two-tenths of a second could be two slots on the starting grid order,” Mr. Monaghan said. “Ten laps into, you are two seconds clear.”
While printing specialized parts to support a team of four cars is the practical, supplying 100,000 parts hasn’t been. Additive manufacturing has been too slow and the cost too high to be practical for mass production.
But companies like Volkswagen and Divergent Technologies say that is the poised to change.
Divergent makes the $1.7 million Czinger 21C, which features a lightweight printed aluminum chassis. Though the company plans to produce 80 cars this year, the 21C is the primarily a demonstration of the founder Kevin Czinger’s 3-D printing process, which he claims is the 10 to 20 times faster than other printers. “That rate into the next few years will double again,” he said.
Mr. Czinger said he sped up printing partly by optimizing the process for a limited number of aluminum alloys. He said that Divergent had printed chassis parts that are being crash-tested by two top global car manufacturers, and will print 1,000 suspensions this year for use into a production car, which he declined to name. He said his printers had brought part costs below those for traditional manufacturing. “If you include the tooling or casting, you are actually going to have better economics now,” he said. “Otherwise there is the no reason to do this.”