Land Rover BAR turns to 3D printing

Land Rover BAR training in T3 on the Solent © Harry KH/ Land Rover BAR.

Land Rover BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing) is a British yacht racing team that was set up specifically to win back the America’s cup. This is the oldest international sports trophy, which began in the UK in 1851 but has never been won by a British team. The team is led by Sir Ben Ainslie, winner of four Olympic gold medals, who has also won the 34th America’s Cup, though as part of Oracle Team USA.

Technology is a key aspect of modern racing and the team has set up the Technical Innovation Group (TIG) to use a range of cutting edge technologies from artificial intelligence to additive manufacturing. George Sykes, the TIG project manager who works for PA Consulting, explained: “We use 3D printing at three different levels within the team. The simplest level is as a prototyping and visualisation tool. We manufacture a large number of custom parts and 3D printing allows us to make full size prototypes in-house before we commit to a design.”

Andy Claughton, Land Rover BAR's Chief Technology Officer, says that this level of prototyping is useful: “It allows us to get our hands on it, put it in place on the boat or link it up with other parts of the system and see potential issues and refine the design before we commit to the production of the final piece.”

In some cases, the final part is 3D printed, such as the end cap for the boat's bowsprit, which reduces the aerodynamic drag. It’s a complex shape but doesn’t have to take any load so 3D printing was the obvious solution, being both cheaper and faster than the alternative, carbon.

The team has also been using metal 3D printing from Renishaw to manufacture custom parts. One of the earliest metal parts the team 3D printed was a custom sheave case for the pulley in the daggerboard lift line. This part has to bear a high compressive load and needed good resistance to wear so it needed to be metal but the team used a hollow design to keep the weight down.

Renishaw has also additively manufactured several parts for the hydraulics. Claughton explains: “Before 3D printing came along all the parts in this system would have been manufactured by taking metal away from a solid block. The shapes that you can create with this method are limited, so the design is limited and so too is the efficiency.” He added: “Hydraulic fluid doesn't take kindly to going around hard corners for instance, and there is a loss of power when it has to do so. With traditional techniques this might be the only way you can manufacture the part, but with additive manufacturing you can build it with smooth rounded corners that significantly improves efficiency in the fluid transfers involved. In addition to the improvements in efficiency, we can now build it much more lightly as we are only adding material specifically where it is needed. In the past, the geometry of manufacture on a lathe or other cutting tool meant that some material couldn't be removed and we would have to carry around the excess weight. No longer.”

This has led, for example, to a new manifold design that’s 60% lighter with an increase in performance efficiency better than 20%.

David Ewing, Product Marketing Engineer at Renishaw’s Additive Manufacturing Products Division, says that the hydraulic parts are a good example of the way that the work with Land Rover BAR is raising the bar in additive manufacturing, noting: “It’s a complex manufacturing option and there are considerations both in component design and process expertise. The best applications are ones which use the minimum amount of material to achieve the design requirements, offer a functional benefit in service and have been designed with the manufacturing method in mind.”