BMW turn to 3D printing to perfect their race bikes

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BMW are well known as masters of tech on the road and track but now they’re staking a claim as masters of tech off the track too with their latest venture.

In a bid to gain valuable seconds for their official World Superbike racing team, they’ve taken to manufacturing rapid prototype parts at the circuit.

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Traditionally for a race bike, the rider would make a request then back at the factory an engineer would design a new component, run a simulation, manufacture the piece in metal and install it on the bike to be tested on track.

It’s a time-consuming process and if a problem shows up in practice, it can’t realistically be fixed until the next race weekend or test. Now, by embracing the latest tech, BMW have cut that time down to just hours. The firm now have a portable 3D printer that they can take to the circuit and set up in the pit area.

3D parts help make production more efficient

“This technology allows us to make improvements to the RR quickly and efficiently,” says BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director Marc Bongers. “The development of a WorldSBK bike is an ongoing process and it is often the minor details that make a motorbike better.”

Using this clever tech, BMW can take data from the rider or a mechanic and instantly give feedback to the development team, who can then execute new ideas in CAD at the track. Almost immediately, BMW can then 3D print new parts and check their fit, function and ease of installation.

It also means that small parts that aren’t subject to large amounts of stress can be made on-site and used straight away during the race. This refinement process can be repeated almost infinitely.

“Normally, you have finished components that you have developed with calculation, construction and simulation, and which you then evaluate during testing or on race weekends,” adds Bongers.

3D printing a motorcycle part

“The risk is always that, as the complete package becomes ever more complex, errors in construction, difficulties with installation or access to the part can be overlooked.”

BMW were able to use the new process at the WSB double-header at Jerez and then Portimao. In Jerez they analysed riding data and calculated that a better shock linkage could be made. A 3D printed prototype was installed and tested successfully, so a new part was then ordered and delivered in time for the race at Portimao. Whatever next?

3D printing explored:

  • Ideas driven First comes the idea for an improvement, be that from the data received by the techs or from the rider
  • Big pressure If it doesn’t work it can be corrected and reprinted, and if it works, the part is sent away to be created from metal or carbon fibre
  • Built to order The new part is then delivered straight to the circuit, where it can be fitted between race days
  • Instant result Straight away the engineers can 3D print the part and test fit it to the bike
  • Make the design In the next step, engineers consider how apart can be improved and redesign it using CAD software