Printing to win


By Paul Gover

Seconds count in motorsport and anything that can help to beat the clock – even a humble 3D printer – can provide a winning edge.

That’s why engineering expertise forms the foundation for the most successful team in Australia’s homegrown Supercars racing over the past decade and why it has a growing focus on 3D printing.

Triple Eight Race Engineering has designed, engineered and built some of the most successful cars in the history of Australian motorsport – including scoring 10 victories in the classic Bathurst 1000.

It now also supplies parts to Qantas for its local fleet of Boeing aircraft.

One of the newest weapons in its motorsport arsenal is the X7, an advanced 3D industrial composite printer from Markforged in the USA.

It is used to create a wide range of parts for the competition crew and their Chevrolet Camaro racer, ranging from the instrument shroud in the cockpit to helmet vents for the drivers and both front and rear aero parts on the car’s wings.

“We’ve been 3D printing for quite a long time. It’s not just prototyping, it’s using parts directly on the race cars,” said the team manager at Triple Eight, Mark Dutton.

He is one of the crack engineering group at the Triple Eight base in Banyo, close to Brisbane airport, although operation of the Markforged machine is under the control of specialised engineer James Xiberras.

He is using a machine which was added to the company’s production capability in 2022.

“We 3D print more than 100 individual parts for the race car. And we also supply to our customer teams in Supercars,” Xiberras said.

“We have so much confidence in what the parts can do. It’s like a canvas for a painter.

“This is the real deal. It’s production engineering.

“We can have something designed and printed in days, not weeks or months.”

The Triple Eight printer is in non-stop demand and works almost 24/7, with less than per cent cent of downtime, a result recognised by Markforged’s president and CEO, Shai Terem, during a recent visit from company headquarters in Boston, USA to Australia.

“They cannot afford any downtime. Their utilisation is the highest in the world,” Terem said.

“For the past nine months in a row Triple Eight has been number one in the world. It’s amazing”

Terem claims Markforged is the world leader in 3D printers with products available in a variety of sizes for polymer, carbon fibre, ceramic and metal printing.

The company has an annual turnover of more than $150 million with 350 employees and more than 15,000 printers in the field.

“We are the leaders in advanced composites and metals. We are replacing metal parts. We are focussed on the factory floor,” Terem claimed.

“And a 3D part is about 90 per cent cheaper. You don’t need a fabrication shop any longer.”

Markforged has some more than 1000 machines into Australia in a wide range of industrial and educational applications, with one mining operator using 18 machines and 21 at the University of Newcastle.

There is only one at Triple Eight, but company CEO – and the winningest driver in Supercars – Jamie Whincup can see the 3D opportunities stretching into the future.

“I want to steer in that direction. We’re an engineering company,” Whincup said.

“It’s about innovation. What else is out there. It’s going to grow and grow.”

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