Engineering students build a better steering mount

Michael SÜß, a Research Fellow at the Technische Universität in Dresden, is currently working on his PHD, which focuses on design guidelines for additive manufacturing/electron beam melting.

When looking for a demonstrator to design as a portion of his research, SÜß thought back to his time working on a Formula Student team. “I wanted to help the current team at the Technische Universität Dresden out. I asked the ELBFLORACE Electric Formula Student Team to suggest a volunteer who is currently working on their project thesis to collaborate with on this project.” This is where SÜß met Lucas Hofman, a current student at the Technische Universität Dresden.


Original steering column assembly.

Together, SÜß and Hofman set out to find a current part on the car that made the most sense to be redesigned for additive manufacturing/electron beam melting. The part selected was the steering column mount. Said Hofman, “The current steering column mount had four different areas that were at different angles to each other. Because of this, it was extremely difficult to produce with a 5-axis milling machine. The part consisted of four different milled aluminum parts that were all bolted together. We discovered other parts that could ultimately be redesigned for additive manufacturing like the uprights, but we selected the steering column mount as we felt we could make the largest performance and weight improvements here.”

SÜß and Hofman learned about solidThinking Inspire in different ways. SÜß was first introduced to Inspire at a workshop that took place at the international trade show, Euromold. Hofman was introduced to the tool at a Formula Student workshop at his university.

SÜß noted, “I love how easy it is to use the PolyNURBS features, it allows us to quickly take optimization results and reconstruct the part so it is ready for manufacturing. In the past, this was always the most difficult part of working with optimizations. We no longer have to use multiple reverse engineering tools, we can now do it all within Inspire.”

Inspire Optimization of steering column

SÜß and Hofman also noted the usefulness of Inspire’s integrated analysis tools, which allowed them to simulate real world conditions on the part.

Knowing that the goal was to produce the part using electron beam melting, SÜß and Hofman knew that they would have great freedom when designing the part.

SÜß noted, “Electron beam melting has an advantage over other manufacturing methods–it allowed us to be quite free with our design as there are very few design constraints.”

Rendering of new steering column after refinement with PolyNURBS.

With their knowledge of Inspire, the two engineers chose to perform the optimization and refinement and final preparation for manufacturing. Hofman noted, “Inspire allowed us to determine the best material layout for the part and the PolyNURBS tools enabled us to get from the optimization to manufacturing quickly. I would say that the entire part refinement process took 5 to 7 hours, which is extremely quick.”

Once the part was redesigned, the next step was to manufacture it. The team worked with Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM to complete the manufacturing. The Fraunhofer IFAM is one of Europe’s leading research institutions in the fields of adhesive technology, material sciences, and manufacturing techniques.

An Arcam A2X electron beam melting machine was used. SÜß explained, “The build time on the part was about 29 hours and the part was produced with a titanium alloy. Electron beam melting was great for this process as you do not need as much support structure as you do with other additive methods. Once post processing is complete, the part should weigh 330g, which is 35% lighter than the original part that was 500g. Without Inspire, the weight savings would not have been possible. Inspire and its PolyNURBS tools are quite impressive, it allowed us to move extremely fast from our optimization to the final manufactured part, we are definitely going to use Inspire more and more often in the future.”

New steering column prior to post-processing. Image courtesy of Fraunhofer IFAM

The new steering column mount is now in the post-processing phase. SÜß and Hofman are hoping that it will be ready to be included on the Formula vehicle soon.


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