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January 22, 2018

Bugatti pushes the envelope of 3D printing to make this brake caliper

by John_A

Bugatti doesn’t do anything normally. From the way it makes cars to the way it handles recalls, this automaker does everything in an outsize and elaborate way. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Bugatti is rethinking the manufacturing process for a part most people ignore … until they really need it.

It may look like an ordinary brake caliper, but Bugatti claims this chunk of metal is the world’s first caliper produced using 3D printing. It’s also made from titanium (the same stuff used in the SR-71 Blackbird jet), and Bugatti claims it is the largest 3D-printed component ever made from that material. The project was an attempt by Bugatti to show its usefulness as a research-and-development hub for its parent company, the Volkswagen Group.

On the disc brakes used by the Bugatti Chiron and most other modern production cars, the caliper clamps down on a rotor attached to the wheel hub to slow the car down. The Chiron uses calipers made mostly from aluminum. The prototype titanium component is both stronger and about 40 percent lighter, according to Bugatti.

But titanium is also difficult to work with, which is why Bugatti turned to 3D printing. The traditional milling process used to turn a solid block of metal into a part simply wouldn’t work with titanium, Bugatti said. However, the 3D-printing process isn’t exactly straightforward either.

To make the brake caliper, Bugatti turned to Laser Zentrum Nord, which had a 3D printer designed to work with titanium. Said printer was equipped with four 400-watt lasers. It took 45 hours to print the caliper by depositing 2,213 individual layers of titanium. After that, the part was heat treated to ensure strength, and technicians trimmed away excess material to create the final product.

Bugatti plans to test the 3D-printed caliper on production cars later in 2018 but admits the timetable hasn’t been finalized. It also plans to shorten the production process. It may take Bugatti months to build a car, but even this most leisurely of automakers can’t wait forever for parts.

Titanium brake calipers for multi-million dollar supercars aren’t very relevant to the average person. But Bugatti claims its experiments with 3D printing could lead to 3D-printed parts for more mainstream Volkswagen Group models. That ability to act as a research and development hub could be crucial to Bugatti’s survival over the long term. VW probably needs technological innovation more than it needs limited-production supercars.

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