Racers have always been innovative when it comes to fabrication of parts and pieces to improve their cars. Car builders, mechanics and the like are all true craftsmen (and women). Whether it is a beautiful weld on a roll cage or a custom fabricated mount for something in the engine bay, building a car is half of racing a car.

We are lucky to live in a time where there is so much technology that is accessible to the average person. The internet dramatically accelerated the distribution of information and communication across the world. This enabled the “tinkerers” and the hobbyists to push beyond what had been possible. The result has been a whole new set of tools and technology that not too long ago were the exclusive domain of top end manufactures. 3D printing has come to the home.

The march of technology didn’t stop there, entire communities have sprung up for creating and sharing of designs and models. That lead me down a rabbit hole, what have the car enthusiasts come up with, and what is there for a Mini Cooper?

Thingiverse is a great starting point for 3D Printing, really for anything. Technically the 3D Printer in the house was a Christmas gift for my creative, engineering, designer, oldest son. That just meant that I had to print a bunch of Pokemon and other items before I got my turn. Once we figured out what we were doing with the printer and I had printed enough things for my son it was finally my turn. Browsing around I found an interesting “thing”. It is a relatively straight-forward mounting bracket for something called an “UltraGauge”.

UltraGauge itself is interesting. It is a ODBII based device that provides data on a small screen. It’s not revolutionary in what it is or what it does, but it is compact and affordable. Mini’s a very simple in terms of the information the dash and gauges provide, so it has been on my list to find a solution that can provide more information about how the car is running. My previous thought was to utilize a tablet and an application called Real Dash. Mounting of the tablet was a bit of a challenge due to size, stability and power needs. The UltraGauge seems to have solved those challenges. It should arrive in a couple days and I’ll dig into it more.

Now you have a thing, and you need to print it. Just put it on a memory card and click go, right? Simple. Well… no. There’s a bit more to printing. First off is slicing. This is basically creating the instructions for the 3D Printer to understand how to build the object, layer by layer. Or in other words, slicing up the model. Once you have that file, then you can give it to the printer to start work. Some things print perfect as is. Other things print really good at the start and then create a tangled mess of plastic floating in the air randomly.

The plastic mess is usually caused by the model exceeding the capabilities of the printer. Specifically, each printer has a limit on how far it can extrude between layers. If it exceeds that limit the print will still attempt to print that portion, but it is printing in empty air… there is nothing for the layer of plastic to adhere to, so it just ends up dangling from the nozzle. Then it gets dragged to other parts of the model, rinse and repeat a few hundred times and you have a beautiful sculpture of plastic spaghetti. This is easy enough to solve once you understand the issue, and figure out that the slicer application can actually fix this for you automatically. I’m using Cura as the slicer. Under the print settings menus, there’s a very handy check box “Generate Supports”. This basically adds thin layers to the model under any unsupported structure. You can go advanced and create your own supports manually if needed as well.

Now you have a well supported model that has been sliced (and diced) and is ready to print. All that’s left to do is level the bed, preheat and let it go. This was a pretty simple model, taking just under 3 hours. The longest print I’ve successfully pulled off so far is 21 hours. Watching it print is equal parts fascinating and boring.

This print actually used a “raft” to help with bed plate adhesion as well. Just under 3 hours later I have a brand new part for the race car. And before you say anything, the table to get it off the floor is on the way. The fact that 3D printing parts is easy is stunning to me. I need to find more projects to take on!