At The Garage Shop, one man’s passion for performance and speed, became a race car fabrication company that builds and restores unique cars, trucks, and off-road vehicles. Their mission? To honor the racers who came before them and put their competitors behind them.
Founded in 2010 by Aaron Brown, and based in Denver, North Carolina, The Garage Shop has grown to a team of more than 15 people working in two 6,000-square-foot shops. The team is comprised of actual family, including Aaron’s sons Spencer and Tony, and other talented people who feel like family. Together they contribute to making Aaron’s vision a reality.
The Garage Shop combines motorsports engineering services, such as chassis setup, aerodynamic work, and drivetrain solutions, with a commitment to personalized service, customization, and results.
We talked to Spencer Brown, a mechanical and electromechanical engineer, about the shop’s exceptional work and how having a Stratasys 3D printing system in-house has improved their business and set the stage for diversification and growth.
What makes The Garage Shop stand out?
We stand out because we have a close relationship with our customers and a personal connection to the vehicles we work on.
We specialize in building and working on racecars, including iconic models like the Bobby Isaac Daytona and Donnie Allison Talladega, which were featured on our show “Legacy of Speed.” Our current projects include a 450+ mph streamliner, a Pro Mod, and two 1934 roadsters for Bonneville.
We also design and construct emergency firetruck sleds for both FIA and NASCAR.
Almost everything we do is custom and designed in-house, so we have to understand exactly what the customers want and be able to deliver.
How have you invested in technology to help you advance your business?
We use a lot of different design, engineering, and production technologies here. We use SOLIDWORKS, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, 3D scanning, and 3D printing. It’s all about using the right combination of tools to achieve the goals the customer lays out for us.
Why did you choose the Fortus 450mc 3D printer and how are you using it?
We chose the Stratasys Fortus 450mc industrial FDM 3D printer, which gives us daily access to high performance additive manufacturing in our own shop.
To give you one example, right now we’re 3D printing custom NACA ducts for the side of a streamliner-class car. It’s a vehicle designed for land speed racing, and it reaches speeds of more than 450 miles per hour. NACA ducts are used to improve aerodynamics, reducing drag and fuel consumption.
Why are these ducts a good application for additive manufacturing?
They’re one-off, and it’s difficult and time consuming to make high density molds, lay carbon, and do all the finishing work.
We also design and print brake ducts for Xfiniti teams. We use the Nylon 12 material for those, and they work out really well. A lot of teams have been running them and they’ve been successful, so we’ve been pushing out more and more.
Teams like them because brake ducts were never easy to make. It’s not just bend a couple of pieces of sheet metal and you’re done. It took a lot of manpower and a lot of time. Now they can buy them from us. They use the template to knock out the holes in the lower nose and mount them. It’s turned a half-day to a day-long job into one to two hours of work.
And with the 3D printed ducts, we can make improvements aerodynamically that we couldn’t with the fabricated ones.
What is it about the Nylon 12 that makes it a suitable material, replacing parts that were once made of metal?
Sheet metal can get damaged pretty easily, like when you hit the apron or bump into the back of something.
The nylon is quite flexible, so it keeps its shape and can take a pretty good hit. One of the Xfinity teams at Nashville, they ran off the front stretch into the grass and came back out. Out of the six 3D printed ducts on the front, they broke only one.
We have a few different designs and sizes to give teams flexibility, as well as easy serviceability at the track.
Working on racecars, you continually face tight timelines. How important is turnaround time?
The teams compete every week, so we have to create parts and do the assembly very quickly. We might get a car on Monday or Tuesday, and it has to be done and out on Thursday. Our turnaround time is really attractive to our customers.
When you use 3D printing to cut down on time-consuming tasks that also require high skill, the most skilled people can spend time on high-value tasks. You don’t want an experienced fabricator spending a whole day on one small piece. We can draw up that piece in SOLIDWORKS and have it printing in two hours. When we save time, parts are more affordable for our customers.
The same is true for the fabricators on the Xfinity teams. They’d rather have a fabricator working on a fender or a side that got pushed in, rather than a one-off specialty part.
What is the value of using 3D printing for prototyping?
Generally, having the printer has helped us improve the quality of our designs and our parts. Through rapid prototyping, we can continually see how we can do better.
We just made some spindles for the streamliner. The spindles cost about $30,000 a pair, so we want to get that right, not be off by a few degrees. You could put it back on the mill and work on it, but once you CNC it and that material is gone, it’s gone. We 3D print the prototype, have a chance to adjust it a little bit, and spend just a few hundred dollars.
And I understand that customers are coming to you to print their parts.
We’ve printed a few parts for our customers. Sometimes they just send us their STL files. Having the Stratasys Fortus 450mc system here has generally allowed us to open new revenue streams for the business.
We recently designed a modular system for the bed of a trackside emergency vehicle to accommodate firefighting equipment, canisters of chemicals used in a spill, and medical gear.
How else does 3D printing help you diversify your business?
The latest generation of race cars limits what design and mechanical engineers can do to them, so the second-hand industry is shrinking a little bit. We’re working on further certifications and moving into other industries like aerospace and military and defense. Having technology like the 3D printer has helped us be eligible to get more contracts.
We’re always trying to push the envelope because once you become stationary, you lose. TriMech helps us find the tools we need to stay ahead and keep moving forward.
What’s it like working with TriMech?
The people at TriMech always take the time to answer all our questions and guide us through selecting and purchasing and beyond. We knew we needed a data management tool, and asked about it, and they said, “let’s figure out exactly how you work and what you need.”
I’d also like to mention the technical support. Working with SOLIDWORKS can be tricky, so I’ve called support a few times. Whatever my issue, it always gets fixed. That’s important because when you’re stuck with the software, the whole project can start to crumble.
What about training through TriMech?
I’ve taken some 3D simulation classes and 3DEXPERIENCE classes and we’re talking about taking some more. In school, I did one semester on simulation, and I thought I had a good handle on how to run simulations. After taking the TriMech classes, I realized how much more I could do.
How did you apply that simulation knowledge in your shop?
We worked on the front shock mounts for the streamliner, which is really what holds the whole car up. We did simulated stress tests on those to make sure we achieved the best possible mass-to-strength ratio.
On the rear rockers, which are 58-inch pieces of two-inch aluminum, we use simulation to reduce the weight as much as possible.
How are you using Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform?
3DEXPERIENCE works really well for us. We have three engineers and we used to email files to each other. Now we upload each file to the platform and we can pull it down, revise it, and upload it again. It has helped us keep track of who’s doing what and the status of the projects.
There was a learning curve for me because I hadn’t used a data management system before. In the long run, it makes it easier because I don’t have to ask someone for a file or wonder who has what file where. You can review parts without having to dig through folders to find something. That’s an important time saver in our process.
How do you educate your clients about the value and capabilities of 3D printing?
It’s challenging sometimes because we have to explain the difference between a Stratasys system and a tabletop printer someone has in their garage. We’ve printed test parts for people, and they see them and touch them and understand the resolution and strength.
One interesting example – we designed a 3D printed backer board for Formula 1. It’s used if a driver gets into a crash. They put the board behind the driver, strap them in, and pull them out. Some people were skeptical about it at first, and one guy even took it home and hit it with a hammer. I told him, you’re not going to hurt it!
I actually had to do some convincing around here when I first introduced 3D printing in the shop. Old school folks weren’t sure about it. We started with a lower-end machine, and I started printing a few jigs and parts, and they all said, this is cool, is there a better printer we can get, with better materials? That’s how we moved to the Stratasys. We’re already talking about adding another machine, so we’re moving pretty fast.