Rapid Prototyper Hits Redline For Race Team

Service Detail from 3 Dimensional Services

Rapid Prototyper Hits Redline For Race Team -Image

With the Le Mans race deadline looming and aerodynamic changes required, team sponsor drives for fast fabrication and turnaround of composite body panel patterns

For Panoz Motor Sports, a part of the Panoz Auto Development organization based in Hoschton, and builders of limited production, high performance sports cars, speed is, of course, nothing new.Their teams of finely crafted Panoz Esperante GTLM race cars, spend a great deal of the year traveling throughout North America vying for victories on the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) road race circuit. But a good part of May and most of the month of June are devoted to bringing home the big prize, winning the circuit's namesake competition, the Le Mans 24 Hour race in France. And recently, with departure for only a few weeks away and the teams in final preparations, a potential setback was discovered…and just as quickly, with the help of one of the team's sponsors, rapid prototyping specialist 3-Dimensional Services (Rochester Hills, MI) a solution formulated.

During the final stages of testing prior to the 2005 Le Mans race, trials indicated that a styling change to the carbon composite front nosepiece or fascia of the Esperante GTLM race car could provide significant aerodynamic enhancements and would fine tune the handling and performance characteristics specifically for the Le Mans event.

The challenge? Fabricating the highly accurate tooling-the pattern necessary to produce the shape of the piece to its new aerodynamic design standard. Between the Panoz Motor Sport staffers and the engineers and production technicians from partner Elan Motorsports Technologies (EMT), fabricators of the composite body panels, the new fascia design with the required modifications were captured and stored in CAD file documents. Then, to convert the designs to actual vehicle components, 3-Dimensional Services took over the process. Founded in 1991, 3-Dimensional Services immediately set out to redefine rapid prototyping to encompass more than just making part models, and has since broadened the definition's scope to include the entire process of producing a prototype part. In their efforts, the company provides completed prototype parts in from 50 to 80% less time than traditional prototype manufacturing would require.

"It goes without saying that all racing teams," notes Ed Triolo, general manager of Panoz Motor Sports, "greatly appreciate the sponsoring companies that make it financially possible for them to get their cars to the start and finish lines. But, when a sponsor can also provide services from its field of expertise to help improve a teams performance, it was an ideal situation for us, and equally rewarding for them as integral race team members."

To begin the process of fabricating the fascia pattern, Panoz electronically delivered the CAD files to 3-Dimensional Services design workstations where the data was transformed by sophisticated software to generate precise CNC cutting tool paths. In the mean time, production personnel at the prototype specialist were assembling a block of Ren Shape® 450, a modeling material of cured polyurethane specially formulated to be an easy-to-machine, dimensionally stable material ideal for use with CNC machining equipment. Using standard board pieces measuring 4" thick by 20" wide by 6' long and a high strength epoxy, the team assembled a block of the material that finished at 2.5' wide by 6' long by 6" thick.

Once the block of Ren Shape was ready and mounted on one of the firm's high speed machining centers, and the tool path downloaded to the machine's controller, the program and machine automatically cut and shaped the complex contours of the newly designed Esperante nosepiece, creating a 'positive' pattern of the required body panel. Since the cutting paths were generated directly from the design data, the machine was able to form the modeling material to net shape and precise dimensions. From electronic CAD design file…shipped to EMT for fabrication of the panels, all within five days. Once EMT received the modified tooling pattern, their production staff was able to begin the process of layering the carbon composite materials and epoxies on the Ren Shape fixture to produce the composite nosepiece shell to the required thickness. Then, the shell was finished trimmed to remove any excess material and flashing along the edges.

"Despite the rush, the patterns were done within the needed time frame and our colleagues at Elan couldn't have been more pleased with the quality of the tooling…it made their work much easier," says Mr. Triolo. "They (EMT) worked over one weekend to finish the composites, and they made the flight to France in time for trial runs and the race. I don't believe we would have been able to incorporate these changes, on such short notice, without the special assistance 3-Dimensional Services. We were truly impressed with their speed."

3-Dimensional Services, along with subsidiaries Urgent Plastic Services-specialist in prototyping injection molded plastic components and Urgent Design & Manufacturing-specialist in stamping, forming and assembly prototypes, provide rapid prototype services for virtually all process disciplines including laser cutting and welding, machining, stamping, hydroforming and tube bending, plastic injection molding, vibration welding, castings, RIM tooling, SLA, LOM and SLS rapid modeling, high definition stamping of exotic alloys, and assembly operations.