Racing is a complicated sport with many layers and different problems that arise when you least expect them. You never know when something new is going to be thrown at you. But, knowing that problems are certainly heading your way, well, that is at least knowing something. For me, I like to solve as many problems as I can during the week, when I have lots of time, and not during the hectic racing weekend when I only have two minutes to get my car on grid and there is an emergency in our paddock. There is a saying from a guy named Gordon Graham, who makes a living examining civil liability, “If it is predictable, then it’s preventable.” Gordon is a smart dude, and so I listen to him.
Thanks to the wisdom of Gordon Graham, when I see a problem coming that is predictable, I feel it is my job to prevent it from happening. In the case of our Prisma Electronics combination tire pyrometer/pressure gauge, I knew right away somebody on the crew was going to let the pyrometer probe fall out of their hands while they were rapidly running around the car collecting tire pressures in the hot pit. And I was sure, based on Murphy’s Law, that the probe would hit the ground in the worst possible way and certainly break the tip.
I had an idea in my mind what I wanted for the tool. Essentially, I just needed a small holder that would keep the probe in a safe place while the Prisma tool was being used as a tire gauge. Then the probe could be pulled out to collect tire temperatures. I considered just using some Velcro, but I have found at hot racetracks the adhesive that holds the Velcro to different components just doesn’t hold up. Then you are stuck with a mess of leftover stickiness on things. I wanted something better. The engineer on my team, Stephen Young, is a lot smarter than I am, so I look to him for advice on these sorts of ideas. He said the answer was simple: 3D printer.
3D printer technology has advanced in recent years to the point where owning one for your shop is extremely reasonable. The X-Smart QIDI we used for designing our pyrometer probe clip was only $300 from Amazon. Of course, it does help to be familiar with 3D CAD design because using this kind of software isn’t exactly a learning curve, but more like a learning cliff. Luckily for me, Stephen Young is an engineer and a bit of genius — the hidden figure behind our team’s multiple Honda Challenge National Championships — so for him to knock out a quick 3D design was easy.
For you 3D printer nerds out there who want all of the technical details here they are: Stephen used Solidworks software to design the piece. He used the proprietary software that came with the X-Smart QIDI 3D printer to convert the 3D CAD design into “slices” – layers the 3D printer can understand and create something tangible. He used PETG plastic, which costs $20 per kilogram of plastic on a reel. He used a better infill (insides of 3D printed pieces look like honeycomb and can be made more dense) around 80 percent to make the piece stronger in design, however it uses more plastic and takes longer to print. Overall, the entire piece cost approximately 20 cents in materials. From start to finish it took the 3D printer 2.5 hours to create the piece.
Once the 3D printer produced the newly designed pyrometer holder, it was time to clean up the piece. Melted plastic leaves behind small strings and rough edges. Most pieces that come out of a 3D printer are rarely ready to go as is. They need a little TLC to get them ready for fitment.
Once all of the support stand sections of the design were broken away and the extra strings of plastic were cut off, the piece was ready for test fitment. Since it takes two and a half hours to print something just to find out it doesn’t fit, it is better to measure twice and 3D print once.
Thanks to meticulous micrometer work from our engineer, Stephen Young, his 3D design and 3D print clip fit perfectly. We snapped it into place and it was a success immediately. Since Stephen literally made something out of nothing, and it only cost 20 cents, I was very impressed.
Once again the engineer on the team saved the day. We had an idea for a solution and he made it happen. Remind me to give him a raise in pay. That is an inside joke. My race team is made up of volunteers who get paid nothing.
If it is predictable, it is preventable. The crew members on Double Nickel Nine Motorsports have a well-earned reputation for being able to break a ball bearing. I knew they would break our tire pyrometer unless I designed a system that was “pit crew” proof. Thanks to an inexpensive home-use 3D printer, I believe we have prevented them from breaking at least one thing.