What happens when an aircraft builder partners with an automobile racing team, to study manufacturing technologies? It turns out the relationship is symbiotic. Boeing and Lotus are working together, studying additive manufacturing for use in building planes and cars.
Boeing and Lotus each have long histories of using new technologies to improve upon their designs, and their manufacturing processes. They've actually been working together since 2005, while studying additive manufacturing, or what's more commonly known as 3D printing. Each company has used a process called selective laser sintering (SLS) to manufacture prototype and production parts. In SLS, a power is distributed, then melted by a laser, layer upon layer, until the desired object is built.
2013 Lotus F1 racecar, by Craig Dennis on Flickr (CC Commercial License)
However, the SLS process isn't perfect, as sometimes weaknesses can be found between the joined layers. When you're building planes and cars, weaknesses are deal-breaker. At first, the companies tried to solve the problem by inserting fine particles of carbon fiber or glass into the layers, but the end result still wasn't as strong as the product made by traditional methods.
The Lotus F1 team website says this about the program:
As the advanced central research and development organization of The Boeing Company, Boeing Research & Technology provides innovative technologies that enable the development of future aerospace solutions while improving the cycle time, cost, quality and performance of current aerospace products and services.
These solutions include advanced design and manufacturing systems and processes; more intelligent, autonomous and network-centric systems; advanced aircraft and spacecraft designs; new structures and materials technologies and more.
During seven years of successful collaboration, BR&T and Enstone have shared and developed technologies in such areas as Computational Fluid Dynamics and advanced materials.
More recently, they have discovered that if they insert smaller, more randomly-shaped carbon fiber particles along with the larger patterned particles, it formed a much stronger bond with the polymer. The carbon fiber being used is recycled from Boeing's aircraft production. It's pretty fun to consider a Formula 1 car racing around at 200+ MPH with a body made from airplane material.