Bugatti just made a 3D-printed brake caliper...using titanium

The future is here
by Craig Jamieson | Jan 28, 2018
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Not content with being the go-to name for anything ruthlessly quick or obsessively over-engineered, Bugatti is now staking a claim for a third adjective: over-complex.

Okay, so maybe they already had a pretty decent handle on that one, but they seem to be hell-bent on driving that message home. How? By 3D printing a brake caliper from titanium. When this news landed on our desk, we thought that Bugatti had 3D-printed a caterpillar. And, as amazing as a 3D-printed Bugatti caterpillar would be, it was in fact a caliper. Also, we probably need to start getting more sleep.

Moving on. As you'll know, 3D printing has been around for a good while now, but it usually relies on specific polymers or easily sintered metals (a complex term that means heat-forming without melting). And you might have to consult a very clever person for this next part, but titanium is apparently quite difficult to manipulate in a 3D printer. Because science.

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Nevertheless, Bugatti, who should be the all-powerful and unbeatable antagonist in Cars 4--"You can’t beat him, Lightning… he's made from 3D-printed titanium, and you’re a stock car that sounds eerily like Owen Wilson"--has found a way to do much science and 3D print titanium. Well, it's a titanium-aluminum-vanadium alloy. So, basically adamantium. And you could argue that's even more impressive.

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So, you'd imagine the new brake caliper is, in some way, better than what's gone before. And you are correct. A single square millimeter (i.e. not a lot) of this Titan-Alu-Vanadium alloy can support 125kg (quite a bit). Even so, the caliper--the biggest ever developed for a road car at 41cm long, 21cm wide and nearly 14cm high--only weighs 2.9kg. Just for comparison, the Chiron's bespoke, forged-aluminum units weigh nearly 5kg each.

But couldn't Bugatti just mill a block of billet titanium, like they do with aluminum? That's a negative, good buddy--titanium is quite strong. So strong, in fact, that Bugatti developed a way to lay fine layers of its super-alloy dust, melting each of the 2200 layers with 400-watt lasers, in a process that takes 45 hours per caliper, because it's easier than trying to mill billet titanium.

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This is all well and good, but what does it all mean for you? Well, it's a lot like the S-Class; to begin with, technology like ABS and curtain airbags were cutting-edge and only available in the most rarefied air. But, little by little, the technology was repeated, democratized and adopted, to the point where the technology we expect in a subcompact would leave an '80s S-Class in the dust. But we still remember the S-Class as a technological pioneer.

So, could that happen with Bugatti's 3D-printed caterpillars, er, calipers? Erm, check back with us in 20 years, yeah?

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made. 

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