Prodrive pits end-use parts created with VLM technology against treacherous terrain

World-leading motorsport and advanced technology company Prodrive has chosen Viscous Lithography Manufacturing (VLM) as its tool to create end-use parts. Mounted in race cars, the parts are putting the complex geometries, surface finish, and engineering materials of VLM to the test. We take a detailed look at the improvements made specifically in its rear light trim.

With facilities in the epicenter of the UK’s Motorsport Valley in Banbury, Prodrive is well-placed to continue its stream of victories in races around the world. For speed and durability, the company of course needs components of the highest standard. The Prodrive team has found VLM technology to be the best way of fabricating end-use parts for their race cars.

Prodrive’s prizewinning history

If you’re a fan of racing, you’ve most likely heard of the various successes of Prodrive throughout the last 40 years. Prodrive is the team behind numerous world championships for Subaru and Aston Martin Racing and puts its expertise into both off-road and circuit racing

Three business divisions exist within the company. Alongside its motorsport racing, Prodrive’s Advanced Technology group is at the forefront of innovative solutions for industries from automotive to aerospace. Lastly, a composites facility is dedicated to consultancy and creation for motorsport programs and top-quality components for prestige automotive OEMs and the aerospace industry.

Prodrive's facilities

The 3D printing backstory

The projects carried out by Prodrive require designing and manufacturing high-performance, bespoke components. Some Epsilon W50s are used to make tools, jigs, and fixtures and Prodrive’s use of 3D printing has also blossomed beyond prototyping into all kinds of production parts. 

The team has taken to 3D printing for load-bearing parts such as mountings and brackets for its ability to create complex geometries and significantly lower costs and shorter lead times compared to traditional methods. The quick reactiveness of identifying the need, designing, then having it in their hands the very same day. 

3D printed parts at Prodrive

Currently, around 100 printed parts are used on race cars. Prodrive has been working closely with our BCN3D engineers to ensure the best fit for materials for each application.

However, the team found they were having to compromise the strength of the parts, which were not 100% homogenous, especially when under tension in the Z-direction. The surface finish was not up to the standard they were looking for, especially horizontally.  This means there’s more room for error in the design stage, and also when figuring out the correct orientation. Its complex geometry meant that, with FFF, the parts were not as strong as they’d hoped against the impacts. Also, the higher the number of parts needed, the longer it takes since we can only use a maximum of two print heads. 

The Prodrive Hunter’s bits and pieces

The Prodrive Hunter with VLM end-use parts
The Prodrive Hunter in action

Prodrive recently rose to the ultimate challenge: the Dakar. Consisting of two weeks of grueling cross-country rallying in Saudi Arabia, the company put its heads together with the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team to create the Prodrive Hunter, an all-new T1 4×4 prototype race car. In January of 2021, Dakar legend Nani Roma drove the car to 5th place. 

For 2021’s Dakar, regulation changes entailed improvements such as bigger wheels and longer suspension and achieved 2nd and 4th overall at the hands of 9-times World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb.

Of the 10,000 parts that make up the Prodrive Hunter, the team honed in on a part of the rear bodywork to see how VLM would fare. The rear light trim is placed behind the back wheel and needs to be able to maintain its mechanical properties against a lot of abuse, especially in the case of a puncture. Since it’s also visible, the team could also see if the surface finish was up to scratch. 

Parts created with VLM technology
Creating the Prodrive Hunter’s rear light trim

“We were really excited when BCN3D presented their new VLM technology which seemed to us to combine all the best features of the different Additive Manufacturing technologies, and even offer some unique advantages.” – Callum Harper, Design Engineer

With applications that require such intense durability, VLM means that Prodrive can continue to use its high-performance engineering materials of choice, such as carbon-reinforced nylons, or impact-resistant plastics, even some with very low modulus, but instead with finer resolution and more homogeneity. The parts are more similar to those made from injection molding.

“VLM’s opens up some interesting options for us in combining the good resolution of the finish of the part and the strength and toughness of these materials.” – Paul Doe, Chief Engineer Chassis

The team noticed a significantly improved toughness, better quality with a sturdier finish, and better feel. The fact that VLM prints all parts simultaneously means large quantities can be made affordably and quickly. On top of that, in a time when sustainability is more important than ever, VLM recirculates all resin back to be reused, meaning every ounce is used. 

“The final jewel in the crown of VLM is the potential to print parts from two different materials in the same build.”  – Callum Harper, Design Engineer

Multi-material printing could be applied to several other applications. For example, one where a component has a flexible element that could be fused seamlessly to stiff mountings. 

This case presents effectively illustrates the power of VLM technology and its ability to provide all kinds of properties for all kinds of applications. Prodrive is looking forward to seeing how the parts live up to expectations at its upcoming vehicle test in the Middle East, where they’ll be pitted against harsh environments. 

“So far, it looks very promising and I predict we’ll be using VLM for all our polymer additive manufacturing before long.” – Callum Harper, Design Engineer

Our collaboration with Prodrive perfectly exhibits the benefits that could be experienced by any manufacturer. If you’re interested to see where this technology could take you, join our VLM Technology Adoption Program to:

  • Be one of the first to discover the new VLM technology and see its full potential for yourself with real 3D printed parts
  • Have a dedicated Additive Manufacturing applications engineer by your side to develop custom analysis and solutions
  • Develop custom use cases for your company