February 3rd, 2020

On the fast lane - on and off the track

Hear the name “Sauber” and your thoughts automatically make the connection to Formula One and Peter Sauber’s legendary Swiss race team. Even though these associations are correct, Sauber has gone beyond the borders of the Formula 1. The company is pushing innovation further in many other technical fields, such as industrial 3D printing. Fokus Erfolgreiche Industrie went to find out how the Hinwil-based company is set for the pole-position in this field.

The aura of a Formula One car is extraordinary: its aerodynamic appearance, the high-tech cockpit and not least the enormous tyres make the machine an allegory for dynamism, power and engineering perfection. “This is the exact knowledge that is transferred from racing into the work of other industries” explains Christoph Hansen, Director of Technology & Innovation at Sauber Engineering. This subsidiary of the Sauber Group arose from the need to make the racing car even faster, lighter and at the same time more reliable. “That is why we at Sauber Engineering are specialised in inventing innovative methods as well as production of high-quality components.

“To make this knowledge, methods and technologies available to businesses outside the racing industry was the obvious way to go”, says Hansen. “Many challenges and requirements from Formula One are similar to those from businesses working within the manufacturing industry”. One example is the need for components which can be produced quickly and in large numbers, while at the same time being light, strong and extremely precise. This is exactly what Sauber Engineering can offer its clients – tailor made.

Growing opportunities

The key lies in additive manufacturing, generally also known as 3D printing. In F1, the core business of the Sauber Group, this technique is used for the production of chassis components. “3D printing opens completely new possibilities but also requires us to rethink” explains Christoph Hansen. Different to standard manufacturing processes like cutting, the additive manufacturing creates the component from scratch. In the 3D printer a part is produced layer by layer using only raw materials.

“The range of application for additive manufacturing is enormous” emphasizes Jonathan Herzog, Head of Project Management and Sales at Sauber Engineering. A perfect example comes from a corporate client of Sauber Engineering: the Swiss company stirred up the industrial 2D print market with its innovations. “A certain component of these devices is perfectly suitable to be produced with additive manufacturing” tells Jonathan Herzog.

The printing device contains many highly complex elements: one of these, almost 10 cm in size, is responsible for the quality of the printing, bringing the ink to the required temperature to assure a smooth application onto paper. “This specific element had a high potential for improvement” says Christoph Hansen. Although its production costs were low to start with and it could already be produced in large numbers, it had its limit in functional life and performance. Jonathan Herzog adds: “Working closely with the client, we have developed an alternative to show the advantages of 3D printing.”

More effective, less expensive

The new element from Sauber is now produced by additive manufacturing using titanium. Compared to its predecessor, the new element has various benefits: it is 57% lighter, delivers 20% more power and costs only half of what it used to. All these arguments were insomuch convincing, as the customer significantly raised the production. “This vote of confidence is of course very reassuring and also proves that our knowledge from F1 can be transferred to different industries and application areas”.

The suitable technology to reach goals

The groundwork for understanding the technology was laid 25 years ago with an application of aerodynamic development in the wind tunnel. Back then, parts required by the company were obtained from external suppliers. As the demand of additive manufactured parts increased year on year, the logical consequence for Sauber was to invest in its own machine park. Firstly, the focus was to use the benefits in plastic-based additive manufacturing. As time passed and requirements changed, the use of stereolithographic (SLA), as well as selective laser-sinlering (SLS) with the specially developed carbon fibre-filled PA12 (HiPAC), became the technology of choice – one which is also in use for the racing car and in the industry. Another significant step is the metal 3D printing technique (DMLS) “which offers further possibilities” to Hansen. To adopt the necessary competences, Sauber Engineering teamed up with a Dutch technology company in 2017. Their industrial 3D printer is designed for three-dimensional printing with metal compounds. The machine itself is quite impressive, as Fokus Erfolgreiche Industrie could observe on location in Hinwil.

The industrial printer has the height of a wardrobe and is about 10m long. Within its chassis, a whole production line is fitted. This provides the ideal atmospheric conditions to carry out the printing process. Thanks to modern sensor technology, every production step can be monitored at all times. “Thereby we can ensure a round-the-clock production, which is highly efficient and at the same time delivers the best quality”. says Jonathan Herzog.

A fierce environment

Up until now, Sauber’s know-how in additive plastic-based manufacturing was mainly used for the production of car parts, which then were tested at the company’s high-tech wind tunnel in Hinwil. Current F1 regulations obliges all teams to test their aerodynamic parts in the wind tunnel based on a 60% model. “Additive manufacturing is the perfect method to produce these highly precise model components” emphasises the company’s Director of Technology & Innovations. The insight gained in the wind tunnel can also profit other business units. Christoph Hansen concludes: “Every innovation inspires the next, which is an asset for the whole group and in the end also benefits our customers.”