One of the reasons I love the field of 3D printing so much is that it’s always evolving and changing. There’s so much room for innovation, and the applications for the technology are just about limitless. One example of this kind of ingenuity can be seen in French supercar manufacturer Bugatti’s recent announcement that they 3D printed a titanium brake caliper.
The company specified that the eight-piston caliper is the first to ever be made via 3D printing and is the largest caliper in the entire auto industry (and the largest functional titanium component made with 3D printing processes).
The new titanium caliper is both stronger and lighter than an aluminum caliper would be. The 3D printed caliper weighs only 2.9 kilograms, whereas the aluminum component weighs 4.9 kilograms. On the type of supercars that Bugatti manufactures, every kilogram of extra weight makes a difference in the performance of the vehicle, so this is a pretty big development.
Bugatti explained in their statement that making a titanium caliper before the advent of high-powered 3D printing would have been close to impossible, since the standard milling or forging process that’s used with aluminum components would be extremely difficult to use with titanium; it was only with 3D technology that they were able to make this breakthrough.
To create the caliper, Bugatti partnered with Laser Zentrum Nord, an application-oriented center for laser technology located in Hamburg, Germany. The timeline from the conception of the caliper to the actual production was only three months. Bugatti supplied Laser Zentrum Nord with the concept, necessary calculations, and design, and Laser Zentrum Nord carried out the actual printing and treatment of the caliper. Laser Zentrum Nord is in possession of a 3-D printer that has four 400-watt lasers and is suitable for use with titanium.
As mentioned by Bugatti, the printing process for the caliper took 45 hours. Titanium powder was deposited in individual layers and then melted into the shape for the caliper by the four lasers on Laser Zentrum Nord’s printer. The caliper is composed of more than 2,200 such layers. The component was finished through heat treatment and various other processes intended to improve its durability.
Bugatti said they plan to begin running tests with the calipers in production vehicles sometime during the first half of 2018. The supercar company is also investigating the possibility of manufacturing other automobile components using 3-D printing technology.
It’s encouraging to see companies like Bugatti becoming leaders in the use of 3D printing and using their resources and expertise to explore the possibilities of additive manufacturing.