Connect with us

Press Blog

Fast Track: How Students in Oregon Are Using 3D Printing to Build Once-Impossible Race Cars and Fuel Tomorrow’s Engineers

November 22, 2019

The race car, painted in the school’s bright orange and black colors, had finally reached Austria. It completed the 5,600-mile journey aboard one plane, two trucks and a trailer, arriving inside a wooden crate, purposely disassembled into thousands of pieces. That was the good news.

The bad news: That shipment from the U.S. West Coast had landed in Europe three weeks later than expected. Even worse, the race was now just two days away. The car’s creators — engineering students from Oregon State University who share a love for fast driving and fresh design — had just 48 hours to rebuild their ride.

They did it in 24.

Oregon State’s race car

But the Formula-Style car still faced one last, possible speed bump before it could hit the track to compete against dozens of college teams from around the world in Formula Student, an annual design competition and racing series for engineering students held at tracks across the world. The car had to pass a critical technical inspection. And, in late July, as a technical inspector stared at the uniquely shaped fuel tank made from a curious material, he began asking lots of questions.
“What is this? Your fuel tank? What material is this?” the inspector said.
“It’s nylon,” replied Nathan Rust, captain of the OSU racing team. “Our fuel tank was made with 3D printing. This is an essential part of our car. We wouldn't be able to have a race car without this part.”
“Genius,” said the inspector. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Green flag.

In Austria, OSU’s combustion-engine car ultimately finished 12th overall. One week later, OSU’s team took second overall in Germany among 60 cars.

Since 2009, Oregon State has finished in first place 16 times on the Formula Student circuit — earning two world No. 1 rankings — all while partnering with students from a German college, Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg-Ravensburg. Together, the two schools operate as Global Formula Racing or GFR. HP has long sponsored the team and, this year, GFR began using HP 3D-printed parts.

“The magic of Formula Student is when I see a car driving and competing and winning, I personally know the people who designed and manufactured and assembled these vehicles,” says Rust, 24, an OSU grad student who oversees mechanical design and U.S. management for GFR.

“I know the amount of blood, sweat and tears, all of the hours, late nights, lack of sleep and sleeping in the shop to get that car where it is,” Rust says. “Yes, we do want to win, but what's most important is that we're not just creating a race car, we're creating incredible engineers.”

Starting this season, GFR designed and constructed three cars — one electric, one combustion powered, and a new driverless car. Near campus in Corvallis, Oregon, Rust and his teammates chose to use HP 3D printers to create many of the more intricate parts for their combustion car.

Those parts include inserts used to mount the car’s wings to its chassis. The team also printed the intake runner, where air and fuel get mixed before being injected into the engine.

With 3D printing, GFR can devise and manufacture key parts in uncommon geometric shapes, enabling them to fit into tight spaces while meeting Formula Student guidelines, Rust says.

This process is fueling the young engineers’ creativity, unshackling them from old, automotive conventions, like only using car parts available in the retail market or waiting weeks or months for specialty parts to be made by traditional machines.

The team simply emails its designs to John Greeven, a 3D printing lead architect for HP who’s based in Corvallis. Greeven then takes the blueprints to a local HP laboratory used for 3D printing. He uploads the requested part into the right machine with the right material and it is made — often in days.

Nathan Rust and John Greeven with a 3D-printed gas tank.

This process is fueling the young engineers’ creativity, unshackling them from old, automotive conventions, like only using car parts available in the retail market or waiting weeks or months for specialty parts to be made by traditional machines.
The team simply emails its designs to John Greeven, a 3D printing lead architect for HP who’s based in Corvallis. Greeven then takes the blueprints to a local HP laboratory used for 3D printing. He uploads the requested part into the right machine with the right material and it is made — often in days.
“We’re just trying to open up their minds to the possibilities of what this technology can do,” Greeven says, “and then they just run with it.’’
“This is the first time we've been able to have basically whatever we want, whenever we want, without much of any bounds at all,” Rust says. “It definitely gives us an edge in competition. In racing, you need to have those small edges in order to win.”
Case in point: the fuel tank that caught the technical inspector’s eye.
In the simplest terms, a vehicle’s fuel tank is just a box that holds gasoline. It has internal baffles to prevent fuel from sloshing during turns. It must be resistant to vibration, leakage, heat and fire. “But this is a very weird box,” says Greeven, who is also an amateur racer in the Formula Ford series. “It has to be a certain shape in order to sit perfectly inside the car. Imagine a plastic milk jug with the sides squished unevenly. It is a very clever design.”
“We couldn’t make this fuel tank without 3D printing,” Rust says. “It’s been a massive win for us.”
In addition to precisely matching those odd dimensions, the tank must also be lightweight — something Rust and his teammates achieved by having it printed with nylon.
Together, the 3D printed parts helped GFR field one of the lightest combustion cars at recent Formula Student events, says Bob Paasch, a mechanical engineering professor at OSU and the team’s faculty adviser. That one-seat, open-wheel car weighed just 323 pounds.

Nathan Rust and John Greeven with 3D-printed fuel tanks and the OSU car

Minimizing weight, Paasch says, enables GFR designers to heed the advice of famous British automotive engineer Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus sports cars. “Adding power makes you faster on the straights,” Chapman often said. “Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”
The GFR combustion car has a maximum speed of 88 miles per hour. (GFR’s electric car can reach 102 miles per hour.)
“HP's parts are unique in their capability,” Paasch says. “With 3D printing, we can make parts that would be impossible to make any other way.”
Oregon State’s track titles are increasingly gaining national attention among high school students interested in pursuing engineering degrees. Current OSU students from Arkansas, Montana, Maryland and California enrolled at the college specifically because they wanted to participate in Formula Student, Paasch says. And now racing is even integrated into the coursework.
During the 2018/2019 academic year, about 40 seniors in the OSU College of Engineering focused their senior capstone projects on GFR.
Beyond the classroom, when students participate in the highly competitive Formula Student series, they absorb high-speed training in how to chase down engineering challenges.
“It's not about the car,” Paasch says. “It's about what they're learning with a project that has real deadlines and real budgets. Then they measure how good a job they did against other student teams directly on the track.”
“These students are going to graduate,” adds Paasch, who drives a Mazda Miata in an Oregon club racing circuit, “and they're immediately going to be thrust into worldwide competition with their companies. If you don't do a good job, your company's not going to survive. They will be ready.”
Rust, who grew up in Roseburg, Oregon, about 100 miles south of the college, believes he will be one of those graduates well prepared to roar into professional engineering thanks to racing.
But he admits it’s been a long ride from his teen days when his automotive interests consisted of snapping occasional photos of passing Lamborghinis to his current role, leading one of the world’s top student racing teams.

The OSU car

Rust wasn’t even interested in motor sports, he says, until he joined GFR during his fourth year at OSU in order to complete a senior research project.
“And now,” he says, “I’m a car guy.”
Along the way, one epiphany Rust has gained — beyond his deeper understanding of engines and air shocks — is his profound joy in leading an international team that’s moving in the same direction, pushing the bounds of engineering, finishing ahead of the pack.
After grad school, Rust sees himself entering a field like aerospace or possibly motor sports — future interests commonly voiced by GFR teammates.
“A couple of us have a joke,” he says, “no matter what, it's either space or race.”
HP Inc. creates technology that makes life better for everyone, everywhere. Through our portfolio of personal systems, printers, and 3D printing solutions, we engineer experiences that amaze. More information about HP Inc. is available at www.hp.com/go/3DPrint.

About HP

Media Contact

HP Inc. (NYSE:HPQ) is a global technology leader and creator of solutions that enable people to bring their ideas to life and connect to the things that matter most. Operating in more than 170 countries, HP delivers a wide range of innovative and sustainable devices, services and subscriptions for personal computing, printing, 3D printing, hybrid work, gaming, and more. For more information, please visit: HP.com.
 
Contact: MediaRelations@hp.com

Inquire

HP Media relations

Visit

HP Press Center