During the 2021 Dakar Rally, Prodrive used a MakerBot METHOD X 3D printer to make more than 30 nylon carbon fiber parts for the two Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter T1 vehicles run by Prodrive and manned by World Rally champion Sébastien Loeb, and Dakar Rally old-hand Nani Roma.
Vehicle development started in late 2019, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic created a multitude of challenges that needed to be overcome by the motorsport company.
“We often put ourselves in tough positions, time-wise. But Covid-19 really threw a wrench in our already-tight timeline,” explained Paul Doe, chief engineer at Prodrive. “In the UK, there was a lockdown that effectively forced us to close the factory for a while. Development that should have taken about a year was compressed into nine months. Instead of testing in July, we didn’t end up turning a wheel on a car until October 2020.”
With the 2021 Dakar Rally set to take place during the first two weeks of January, this delay in development left the team working to an extremely tight schedule. Despite Prodrive’s headquarters offering a wide range of in-house capabilities and manufacturing, the Hunter T1’s development team was left competing for resources that were also needed for other Prodrive projects running in tandem.
Doe decided to add the MakerBot METHOD X 3D printer to his team’s arsenal of tools, following a recommendation by carbon fiber material provider DSM. The printer enabled the team to quickly print parts such as a fire suppression system nozzle and a suspension position sensor, alongside experimenting with a variety of vehicle adaptations on and off the test track. The printer streamlined the development process and was more cost-effective than using traditional manufacturing methods.
“There is a massive list of benefits from using the MakerBot METHOD X compared with normal production, such as speed and responsiveness. When it comes to designing parts on the car, the first thought is often to print a part off the 3D printer to see how it would turn out. The ability to try the part first before committing to the final product allows us to make changes quickly and easily. This rapid iteration also allows us to stay pretty close to our production timeline, while also saving us a ton of money,” Doe commented.
Due to the success of the printer during the development stage, it was taken into the desert, where it was used to print parts on location and replace pieces that would normally have required specialist fabrication equipment.