Where open source 3D printing and sim racing collide
Operating from a small town in Italy, 3DRap fulfills the promise of reprap in the world of E-sports
3DRap is a startup based in a small town on the hills of Irpinia, in Southern Italy, in the medieval town of Capocastello. As the name implies the company was founded around the idea of RepRap 3D printing: they created an open-source system, leveraged the Arduino platform for a number of projects and built a digital production facility. But the sweet spot where their open-source 3D printers began to truly make business sense is sim racing: 3DRap is now a manufacturer of custom 3D printed mods for sim racing peripherals, hitching a ride on one of today’s key technology trends to reach people all over the world.
Founded in 2016 by four engineering students, a designer, and a web developer, 3DRap is now both a 3D prototyping and engineering company and a lot more. Everything started with the discovery of Arduino, a tool that unlocked a world of potential combined with open-source technologies.
Enter sim racing
Since its inception, 3DRap identified sim racing as a sector that proved highly compatible with the company’s business model.
Taking advantage of the know-how of some of the founders, it was almost natural to understand the requests and failures of a growing market that is already generating billions worldwide. Simracing is one of many e-Sports that is becoming popular online. The Pandemic has greatly accelerated this growth in popularity all over the world. The system is based on realistic physics simulations of car racing: the simulators are advanced mathematical models, as close as possible to reality.
Thanks to the reconfigurability of their production line, typically made up of 3D printers, the 3DRap team has been able in a short time to develop over 50 peripherals, modifications and accessories that are now shipped to over 70 countries worldwide. The continuous request and visibility in this sector, with sponsorships and live coverage on Youtube and Twitch, has made 3DRap one of the reference companies for sim drivers all over the world.
Furthermore, thanks to the Città della Scienza incubator, 3DRap started a collaboration with MegaRide, an academic spin-off of the University Federico II of Naples, which was awarded by Shark Bite the National Innovation Award, the title of innovative startup of the year. The core activity of the company involves the supply of software developed in order to predict and simulate the behavior of tires, useful for evaluating their performance, allowing the customer to define the setup and the race strategies in view of events such as the MotoGP championship. The goal will be to be able to transfer this know-how, acquired during the real races, to the virtual ones, giving a further boost to what will be the next developments in the sim racing sector.
Sim racing for everyone
While 3DRap now offers several lines of professional sim racing products and mods for the top peripheral brands, perhaps no product better exemplifies the benefits of 3D printing and the 3DRap team’s ingenuity for sim racing than 3DRap’s Hand Controller for disabled simmers who cannot use their legs for the pedals.
The 3D printed custom device is worn on the hand and allows users to accelerate and brake with their thumbs. The device was entirely designed and manufactured by 3DRap, even the rubber strap in TPU is printed in 3DRap’s laboratory. Essentially it replicates the tried and tested linear potentiometer system of the Logitech and Thrustmaster pedals. The accelerator is held by a linear spring and the brake by two opposing poles, thus ensuring a good modulation to train without too much strain on the thumb.
It connects to the PC via a USB port. Careful calibration of the axes in the windows peripheral management is recommended, by pressing and releasing the pedals slowly. This way, the end stops are set correctly. It is produced on-demand and takes about two days from when the order is received.
A world of sim
Sim (simulated) racing is the collective term for computer software that attempts to accurately simulate auto racing, complete with real-world variables such as fuel usage, damage, tire wear and grip, and suspension settings. To be competitive in sim racing, a driver must understand all aspects of car handling that make real-world racing so difficult, such as threshold braking, how to maintain control of a car as the tires lose traction, and how properly to enter and exit a turn without sacrificing speed. It is this level of difficulty that distinguishes sim racing from “arcade” driving games where real-world variables are taken out of the equation and the principal objective is to create a sense of speed as opposed to a sense of realism.
In general, sim racing applications, such as rFactor, Grand Prix Legends, NASCAR Racing, Race 07, F1 Challenge ’99–’02, F1 ’18, Assetto Corsa (ACC), GTR 2, Project CARS, iRacing and Richard Burns Rally are less popular than arcade-style games, mainly because much more skill and practice is required to master them. With the development of online racing capability, the ability to drive against human opponents as opposed to computer AI is the closest many will come to driving real cars on a real track. Even those who race in real-world competition use simulations for practice or for entertainment. With the continued development of the physics engine software that forms the basis of these sims, as well as improved hardware (providing tactile feedback), the experience is becoming more realistic.
This is going to be an increasingly fertile ground for future opportunities in digital manufacturing.
*Thank you to my neighbor and friend Nico (ACC PS4 sim racing team E-Racing Project, Twitch handle nickician) for showing me the level that consumer sim racing has achieved and the possibilities offered by 3D printed mods.