3D printing technology is indispensable in modern car design. World-leading brands like Ferrari extensively use additive manufacturing, especially in the early stages of developing new products. Vincenzo Mattia, an ex-Ferrari designer involved in the LaFerrari project, explains the Ferrari’s approach to design and how the company works with various 3D printers, including Zortrax.
Modern car design is a complex process that takes a multitude of different skills like processing carbon fiber, setting up suspensions and engines, or adjusting aerodynamics. According to Mattia, the best way to start a career in the automotive industry is to get a general education offered at renowned schools like the Italian ISSAM which stands for Istituto Superiore di Scienza dell’Automobile di Modena, and then narrow the scope of expertise down to more specific areas of interest.
At Ferrari, there are over 3000 people involved in the design process and it is impossible to do everything alone. Mattia names the five design stages every new Ferrari has to go through: the demo, mulotipo, prototipo, avanserie, and preserie. 3D printing is heavily used in the first two stages.
“The demo is the first car you build after defining the general design goals you want to achieve with the new vehicle. You take an old, carry-over car and test the features you want to have in the new car. For example, we tested the new V12 LaFerrari engine in a 458 Italia. The mulotipo, in turn, is the first time when the new car is built from the ground up”, says Vincenzo Mattia, an ex-Ferrari designer and CEO of Vins Motors, a company building carbon-fiber motorcycles and a Ferrari supplier.
There are a lot of design changes at these two early stages, so the most feasible way to quickly fabricate various components is to use additive manufacturing. Ferrari has a lot of 3D printers, including the ones made by Zortrax”, adds Mattia.
Working knowledge of 3D printing technology is also what helps aspiring designers rise through the ranks at Ferrari. 3D printed components can be fitted into a demo or a mulotipo car right away and tested for their functionality, ergonomics, or aesthetics. By 3D printing parts under development and doing such real-life tests, a designer demonstrates commitment and a practical approach cherished above all else by Ferrari decision-makers.
Mattia was one of the designers who pioneered using desktop 3D printers in this application at Ferrari. He claims, that a common practice back in his days at the company was using very expensive, industrial class machines. Now, more affordable, versatile desktop 3D printers are also included in the Ferrari’s toolkit.
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“An effective designer has to communicate ideas clearly. Back in the old days, this was done through sketches drawn with a pencil on a sheet of paper by hand. Then, in the 1990s through early 2000s, we witnessed a major shift towards CAD design. Now, another great shift is underway. We are entering the era of real 3D. It is no longer enough to design on a computer screen. Now, you need to build things you can touch, you can feel, things you can really see. And you need a 3D printer to do that,” says Vincenzo Mattia.
But one does not have to be among the chosen few lucky enough to build Ferraris. The very same Zortrax 3D printers are just as successfully used at ABcar Oldtimers, a small workshop based in Poland specialized in restoring old cars to their former glory. Here, the design process works somewhat in reverse.
RESTORING OLD CARS WITH 3D PRINTING
“Restoring old cars is extremely time-consuming job with long hours spent on design, reverse-engineering, and searching for unorthodox solutions. We build our components based on available drawings, and sometimes old photographs showing how a particular car looked like back in its era. In most cases, parts and components for these machines are very no longer in production and are difficult to find. This is why 3D printing is often the only possible way to bring them back to existence,” says Bartłomiej Błaszczak, a chief designer at ABcar Oldtimers.
What the team at ABcar Oldtimers finds particularly challenging, is building tiny, intricately design components that nonetheless contribute to the overall look and feel of the car. For example, the speedometer needles fitted in vintage Mercedes Benz automobiles had a crescent at the bottom.
According to Błaszczak, Zortrax Inkspire, a very precise 3D printer working in the UV LCD technology, is the best tool to print small components of this kind. Other examples of using 3D printers at ABcar Oldtimers include printing dice for press-stamping letters into metal sheets or patterns for building molds used for casting bumpers or door handles out of metal.
At world-leading automotive brands and small workshops alike, Zortrax 3D printers are reliable and affordable rapid-prototyping tools. The 3D printing technology can fabricate almost all possible shapes, and this translates into increased design flexibility. A designer can freely iterate through each part design to find the best possible solution within a couple of days, whereas fabricating the same set of parts would take weeks or even months.
This is why 3D printing technology and Zortrax 3D printers in particular offer sufficient quality to meet the requirements of huge automakers like Ferrari, while staying accessible to small businesses like ABCar Oldtimers.