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Metal Technology Inc. (MTI)
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Put Your Pedal to the 3D Printed Metal
English Racing's Mitsubishi 4G63 race engine was exhibiting performance problems until a new oil pump gear was produced by Metal Technology, Inc., using 3D Systems' ProXTM 300 3D direct metal printer.
Photo courtesy of 3D Systems.
Race Car Company Solves Product Problem by Working with Metal Components Manufacturer that Invested in New 3D Metal Printer Technology
When Zach Morgan, a tech and tuner at English Racing, saw the early 2014 Facebook posting by CEO Gary Cosmer at Metal Technology, Inc. (MTI) about a newly purchased 3D metal printer (3D Systems' ProXTM 300), he knew it could be the fast and cost-effective answer to a problem his company had been struggling with for more than two years with its Mitsubishi 4G63 race engine.
Cosmer, a motor sports enthusiast, had heard of English Racing, based in Washington State, but he did not know the race car company was struggling with a high-performance car, the Mitsubishi Evo, with a factory oil pump drive pulley that caused excessive oil pressure and as a result, possible complete engine failure.
English Racing Product Challenge:
• Reduce oil pressure in engine at high rpm
• Make larger oil pump gear to slow pump down and conserve oil
English Racing had an innovative approach to solving the problem with the Mitsubishi Evo, set up for half-mile top-speed events where the vehicle runs in excess of 185 mph with rpm that exceed 10,000. The company designed a new pulley with a larger diameter, which would turn slower, thereby lowering the oil pressure. The larger part would slow the oil pump down to also conserve oil in the engine while maintaining power.
But producing it was going to be a huge challenge because the original pulley was a cast part, which would typically require a mold, tooling to produce a mold, a significant amount of lead time, and a prohibitive amount of money. So the part design just sat for two years without a maker.
For any race car company, performance in races is its advertising. And with this oil pressure and oil conservation issue, the high-profile client who owned the Mitsubishi car had his engine fail at an event, causing frustration on all fronts.
Seeing the Facebook posting, Morgan quickly gave MTI's Cosmer, in neighboring Oregon, a call.
"We were pretty keen on trying to get a new one (part) on there before we took the car to California and then Colorado in about a week," Morgan said.
English Racing needed help fast and it was easy for MTI to see that its recently purchased ProX 300 metal 3D printer by 3D Systems would be the best solution for English Racing's problem and that additive manufacturing was the best match for this particular part. They had the 17-4 stainless steel powder in-house and no fixtures to make and no CNC programming to do or tooling to purchase.
"It was faster and lower cost," Cosmer said. "We would estimate that it was at least ten times quicker to get to production on the ProX than it would have been using traditional mills or turning centers."
English Racing was able to quickly prepare the design file for 3D printing, and sent it to MTI. "We had a plastic model the day after I sent the file and then we worked with MTI on a few corrections and had the metal prototype three days after that," Morgan recalled.
Metal Technology Inc. (www.mtialbany.com), based in Albany, Ore., offers precision forming processes using exotic metals for standard and custom products, and could have easily produced the part through traditional manufacturing methods. But this particular part would have required at least two lathe operations, one mill operation, and a slow EDM operation. It would have also required ordering specialized tooling and time to write the CNC code to run on the machines for each of the operations.
"If we were to have used traditional manufacturing, it would have involved many more steps and a lot more cost," said MTI's Cosmer. "So additive manufacturing became the answer," he said.
Metal Technology Inc. specializes in traditional methods, such as deep draw forming, spinning, forging, CNC turning and milling, punch press, welding, EDM, and other fabrication methods that make it possible to use high-temperature, corrosion-resistant metals, such as tantalum, niobium, zirconium, vanadium, nickel, inconel, copper, and more. The addition of additive manufacturing has given the company the ability to build parts in a matter of hours, producing accurate and detailed parts with geometries not possible to produce conventionally.
Process Challenge for MTI:
• Fast turn-around on part
• Complex geometry
• Tight tolerances
• Small quantities needed
• Restricted budget
The largely unattended 3D printing operation (the traditional route would have required an operator in front of each running machine) only took five hours once the design was uploaded. Then the printed part was heat-treated, sand-blasted, and finished in-house. The final part was then installed in the Mitsubishi Evo race car and running on track within three days. The part worked perfectly, reducing oil pressure to safe levels and allowing the vehicle to set speed records in its class.
"The ProX 300 allowed us to produce end-use parts faster and more economically than ever before, and these parts are being used in some of the most demanding environments you can imagine," said MTI's Cosmer.
"We run 50 pounds of boost pressure, 100 pounds or more of oil pressure, and it's basically the most extreme environment you can put an engine in," said Morgan from English Racing. "We're pushing a car that has a fairly high coefficient of drag through the air up to 200 miles per hour and we only have 4 cylinders to share the load of all that."
This 3D direct metal printed oil pump gear made by Metal Technology, Inc., for English Racing's Mitsubishi Evo, solved a performance problem by reducing oil pressure in the race car's engine at high RPMs.
Photo courtesy of 3D Systems.
After the first part was built and tested, English Racing asked MTI to use the ProX 300 for a production run of 35 additional parts for different race applications across the country. In June, the English Racing team put its newly 3D metal printed oil pump gear to the test at the Pikes Peak half-mile top-speed event in Colorado and achieved 184.9 miles per hour, placing first place in the sedan class.
"The car ran great, like we expected it would," said Morgan. "We have been running the car on our dynamometer without any failures, so we thought we had a car that was going to put us in the winners' circle; we just didn't know if that was going to be first place or not."
And shortly after, in July in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, again the Mistubishi Evo with the new 3D printed metal part took first place and world record holder as the fastest 4-door sedan, clocking in at 196.67 mph.
3D Metal Printed Part Results:
• Ten percent reduction in oil pressure
• Increased reliability
• Improved performance in races
Metal Technology Inc. was able to quickly turn around this project for English Racing, saving the company thousands of dollars and significant time as opposed to using other manufacturing processes. The ProX 300 was perfect for this job. In total, we spent 130 hours on the project; that was pretty substantial," said MTI's Cosmer.
Since 1971, MTI has been serving the aerospace, defense, and scientific industries primarily, but also does custom manufacturing for motor sports applications and beyond. For space applications, MTI has created parts for the Orion spacecraft, and for defense applications, it has done work on the Trident missile program. Specializing in exotic alloys and precision machining, MTI does deep draw forming with presses up to 1,200 tons and recently decided to add 3D printing to its portfolio of offerings in order to be "fully comprehensive," Cosmer said.
As with other forms of 3D printing, direct metal 3D printed parts go through a 3D computer model, which then goes through a slicing engine that takes the model and cuts it into two dimensional contours, explained Jason Stitzel, director of engineering for MTI.
The 3D metal printer waits until the current layer has been sintered and then spreads the new powder over the previous layer, Stitzel explained. The layering sequence is made up of two steps: the distribution phase, where the powder is spread in an even layer over the previous layer; and then the return pass, when the powder is compacted to ensure a dense powder bed that results in a quality, smooth surface, he said.
Once the part was completed, MTI performed finishing in-house in order to ensure that the timing belt of the engine wouldn't be abraded by a rough surface.
Morgan said he was really impressed with the part right from the start. "The finish was very good and I didn't feel like it was going to have any timing belt wear problems," he said.
Even on startup, where the pressure is 130 plus pounds per square inch, it was down to 115 to 120, English Racing's Morgan explained. Before using the new 3D printed part, the race car was seeing over 100 psi even when fully warmed up, and now it sees about 90 to 94 psi. And another benefit with modifying the oil system in this way is that when idling, only two to three pounds are lost on the gear (part) underdriving the pump, but then at high rpm, it gained quite a bit, he said.
"There's no doubt to me that this (3D metal printed) oil pump gear is the ultimate solution in the stock oiling system," Morgan said. "This process really is a testament to taking the small parts of an engine and making it much more reliable and using new technology to solve a problem that you couldn't use before. We've had problems with the lifter and failures with gaskets leaking and all sorts of these issues that we've now solved with one singular part that's much more cost-effective than the options we've had to use before."
And 3D printing inherently embraces complexity of parts. The traditional cost model for manually or CNC machining a part with a complex geometry can be more expensive and time consuming the more complex it is, Morgan explained.
"With the Pro X 300 system and additive manufacturing, the machine doesn't care how complex the part is. In fact, the more complex it is, the less material is being used and the cost can be even less for a complex geometry than a simple geometry," he said.
3D Metal Printing Benefits:
• Increased productivity, repeatability, and flexibility
• Access to a wide range of metals and alloys
• Unmatched design and manufacturing freedom
• Eliminated cost and time associated with tooling and fixturing
3D Systems (www.3dsystems.com), a leader in producing additive manufacturing equipment, recently released its new line of three ProX direct metal printers that can produce metal or ceramic parts in a wide selection of metal alloys, including stainless steel, titanium grade 5, tungsten carbide, aluminum, cobalt, nickel, precious metals, and much more.
"The properties of the parts built on the ProX direct metal printers are in fact better than many high-quality castings that you'll find in terms of mechanical properties, and the printers print very uniformly, so the properties are uniform throughout the build," said Tom Charron, vice president of product marketing for 3D Systems. "The systems are very accurate and we have repeatability on 20 microns in all three axis, which allows you to print almost anything for any application."
3D Systems' ProXTM 300, shown here at Metal Technology, Inc. in Oregon, can produce 3D metal or ceramic printed parts in a wide selection of metal alloys and is able to handle complex parts with ease while cutting costs and enabling fast delivery.
Photo courtesy of 3D Systems.
For MTI, the most unique and desirable feature on the ProX 300 was its ability to use a roller technology rather than a blade/swipe technology on similar machines. "The ProX 300 has a blade swipe that is followed by a roller that compresses the metal powder and we think that provides higher density and better parts," said MTI's Stitzel.
Two other features to the ProX 300 that attracted MTI was its recycling system, where unused powder runs through an automated system and back into the feed mechanism, and an air-locked loading and unloading capability where the atmosphere inside the machine is maintained, Stitzel explained.
3D Systems' New Direct Metals Lineup:
Pro X 100 - 4" x 4" x 3.2" build area / $300,000 - $400,000
Pro X 200 - 5.6" x 5.6" x 4" build area / $550,000 - $650,000
Pro X 300 - 10" x 10" x 12" build area / $675,000 - $800,000
The accuracy on the metal parts can range from 1 to 2 thousandths and surface finish is roughly 5 Ra, in micrometers, or microns. The smallest grain size the machine can work with is 3 microns and it has the patented layering-roller system that can layer the metal powders from 10 microns to 100 microns.
The ProX 300 has automatic loading and clamping, automatic sieving, and automatic recycling of the powder to the supply chamber. The metal/ceramic powder stays contained in the built chamber during cleaning and loading/unloading of parts, thereby offering operator safety as the metal/ceramic powders never get airborne.
The Pro X 300 has been an "important and transformative tool" for his company, said MTI's Cosmer. "It allows us to provide solutions for our customers that we could never provide before. And it allows us to do it faster than we've ever been able to do it in the past."
Since purchasing the ProX machine earlier this year, MTI has had interest in additive parts from the aerospace and medical industries, among others. A recent call from Disney involved additive manufacturing animatronic components and a call from Boeing yielded interest in a design for an airfoil.
Cosmer went on to explain that offering both traditional and additive technologies to customers allows for "hybrid manufacturing," in which case a project might be started as an additive project and finished as a deep draw or precision machining project. "So we've leveraged the benefits of these technologies to produce a superior part at a higher value," Cosmer said.
And whenever English Racing needs more of the 3D metal printed oil pump part, even if it's just a few, MTI is ready.
"Now they have the flexibility, when they have the demand and their inventory is down, to call us up and say, 'We need five more, or 10, or 12 more,' at any given time and we can either fit those onto an existing build plate that we're getting ready to run in 17-4 (stainless steel) if it's a small quantity, or we can dedicate an entire build plate (for larger quantities)," MTI's Cosmer said. "We have the flexibility to do either one and to be able to provide them a flow of finished product in quantities that they need at any given time. So they don't have a high inventory carrying cost."
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