Nerbrija University students upgrade Dakar Rally car using 3D printing
Using ArcelorMittal's 3D printing technology and the university's smart design algorithms
Students at Nebrija University, in Spain, recently undertook a project in which they redesigned and technologically improved a Sodicars team car that was used in the 2023 Dakar Rally in the top-class category (T1). The 3D printing technology used by ArcelorMittal at its R&D&I Centre, combined with the smart design algorithms of Nebrija University, has made it possible to develop various components of the car.
“Nebrija to Dakar is a long-term project that extends beyond the 2023 Dakar Rally. There is a very clearly defined roadmap for the coming years, in which the alliance with ArcelorMittal and the integration of 3D printing technology in an increasing range of components of the vehicle will be one of the main pillars,” said Sergio Corbera, Head of the Automotive and Mechanical Engineering Area at Nebrija University.
As a result of the project, a new part that connects the side box of the car with the bargeboard – a part that achieves a 20% weight reduction below the limit set – was 3D printed at the ArcelorMittal laboratory.
“Our participation in this project constitutes a new challenge within the framework of our Partnership Programme. It is an exciting project in which we will be able to see yet another 3D printed steel part deployed in the extremely harsh conditions of the Dakar Rally, which is in itself a real challenge,” said Pedro Prendes, Head of Process R&D at ArcelorMittal.
ArcelorMittal operates a technological innovation center focused on the development of various cutting-edge technologies, including 3D printing, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and green energy.
Nebrija University integrates artificial intelligence and generative modeling techniques (‘smart design’ or generative design) to develop products that contribute to enhancing the added value that ArcelorMittal provides for the automotive world. The partnership between the two parties began a few years ago, with the development of an entirely 3D printed motorbike frame, which demonstrated that steel could offer a lighter solution than aluminum (a 25% weight reduction was achieved in this structural part). The objective of this partnership was to introduce an ever-increasing range of printed components in the automotive sector and consolidate the technology.
From a mechanical standpoint, the Dakar Rally is one of the world’s toughest automotive competitions and, therefore, constitutes one of the best environments for the deployment of disruptive technologies, such as 3D printing. Nebrija University reached an agreement with Sodicars, a vehicle manufacturer and racing platform with more than 11 years of experience in automotive competitions and in the Motorsport world, that specifically focuses on the redesign of, and technological improvements to, Sodicars’ BV2 vehicle. Nebrija University leads the technological development and technical management aspects of the project with a team of undergraduates and master’s students from Nebrija Polytechnic. Manolo Plaza, who has taken part as a driver in more than 14 editions of this rally, and his daughter Mónica Plaza, piloted the improved vehicle during the competition.
The collaboration focused on the development of the parts supporting the car’s side pods. Although these components have a very minor structural function, they are very exposed to impacts or the possibility of being hit by stones, due to their position on the car. Additionally, as they are located in one of the main aerodynamic flow channels of the car, the final component needed to have a limited area of flow resistance. ArcelorMittal’s team contributed its design technology as well as its know-how in 3D printing technologies to develop a lightweight component that met these aerodynamic constraints. The final result was a part with an organic shape, that barely weighed 800 grams – 20% below the limit set – that connects the side box of the car with the bargeboard.
The component, created by engineers specializing in design, computational analysis, and manufacturing processes, was printed at the facilities of the R&D&I Centre, in Avilés, using LPBF technology. To produce the component, the R&D&I team used a 17-4PH steel alloy which was subsequently heat-treated.
The design process took into account the points where the component is fastened to the vehicle, the aerodynamic requirements, and the simulation of forces it is exposed to – in order to optimize the design space. The joint work of the various R&D&I teams made it possible to produce the final printed parts within three weeks after receiving the case study. Short development and production cycles for new components constitute a competitive advantage, as they make it easier to adapt to changes and new requirements for the application – in this case, racing vehicles.
The Nebrija to Dakar project was conceived as a real university project, where students are the protagonists and central pillars in the redesign and technological improvements of the car. The project aims to contribute to the personal and professional growth of the students, and to implement the ‘learning by doing’ philosophy as an academic format to prepare future automotive professionals. In this context, the partnership with ArcelorMittal has enabled students to gain a more in-depth insight into 3D printing technology, and opens a whole range of possibilities for the design of the new components planned for the car.
“The design process for 3D printed parts is always a new challenge that requires experience in the use of the technology and knowledge about the behavior of the material. The Nebrija to Dakar project offers a new opportunity to contribute all the knowledge developed by our team and use it in new digital design tools in order to explore, develop and fully exploit a range of unique, unconventional solutions,” said Daniel Vázquez and Sandra García, researchers in the design area at ArcelorMittal Global R&D.
“Additive manufacturing will continue to play a major role in the future of mobility. Steel will continue to reinvent itself in order to adapt to a changing context in which new compositions, technology, and digitalization will create opportunities for new developments,” said Nicolás de Abajo, Head of ArcelorMittal’s Research Centres.