McLaren Uses 3D Printing to Build an Exterior Ribcage for a Driver

After one of their Formula 1 drivers had to undergo heart surgery, McLaren Applied Technologies partnered up with Stratasys to create a torso-protecting shield using 3D printing.

drupa McLaren Project Invisible

The automotive industry has been a catalyst for technological innovation for decades. It is also the industry that implemented 3D printing into production first. For some years now, carmakers have relied on 3D-printed car parts – for regular cars as much as for race cars. Car racing giant McLaren, who are partners of Stratasys, has now developed a 3D-printed part that benefits the car’s most important part: the driver.

Recently, one of McLaren’s drivers had to undergo heart surgery. As a result, his ribcage is no longer able to protect his vital organs, including heart and lungs, to the fullest. That driver then asked McLaren Applied Technologies for help and they replied with Project Invincible.

Project Invincible Relies Heavily on 3D Printing

Project Invincible is a collaborative project where several companies and teams were involved. First of all, the team started 3D-scanning the driver’s upper body. Combining scans and measurements they created a CAD file. From then on, they focused on finding the right materials to create a chest plate that not only prevents physical damage from the driver’s torso but is also light and thin enough to be worn underneath everyday-clothing.

Using Stratasys FDM and Polyjet 3D printers the team led by Dan Toon was able to create a prototype that is able to withstand the force equal to having a bowling ball dropped from waist height without breaking. “The main challenge for Project Invincible was to develop a product or a garment that protected the thorax region of the body. In other words, doing the job of the ribcage, protecting the vital organs of the body”, says Toon.

[Source/Images: McLaren Technology Group]

3D Printing and Race Car Parts Protect Vital Organs

In early stages of the design, the goal was to make the shield fulfill three major task. Project leader Toon explains that those were to “protect the thorax from the initial impact, then transfer the load away from the region that needs the most protection to finally attenuate that load to dissipate the force.”

The final design of the shield is made of a rigid composite structure which is also used to build parts of McLaren’s Formula 1 cars. The shield is then placed on three non-Newtonian gel pads. They are directly applied to the bespoke base layer with a Velcro interface.

[Source/Images: McLaren Technology Group]

3D Scanning and Printing Allows for Full Customization

McLaren’s Project Invincible opened the door for further treatment of patients suffering from the same condition. Through digital creation, the shield can be customized entirely which means it fits every individual patient’s needs – from daily activities to car racing.

We love seeing new ways how medicine can benefit from 3D printing. So we would like to see McLaren Applied Technologies to drupa 2020 in Düsseldorf.

What other ways do you think a shield like Project Invincible’s could be used to solve medical issues? Tell us in the comments below!

[Source/Images: McLaren Technology Group]