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February 27, 2013

Would You Drive a 3-D Printed Car?

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve been hearing a great deal about 3-D printing as of late. It’s the idea of building things by actually “printing” them using various materials, and it is revolutionizing manufacturing.

Known as “additive” manufacturing, as it involves building things from scratch in layers (as opposed to “subtractive” processes that take a lump of raw materials and carve something from them), it can cut waste, allow for easier customization, make small-scale manufacturing economical – turning manufacturing “greener.”

While manufacturers already use the 3-D printing process in building components and electronics, some researchers have their sights set on much bigger goals – a car, for example.

Engineer Jim Kor has designed a concept car called the Urbee 2, a 3-D printed automobile that could revolutionize parts manufacturing while creating a cottage industry of small-batch automakers intent on challenging the status quo, Wired is reporting this week.

The entirety of the Urbee 2’s exterior body is 3-D printed on Stratasys (News - Alert) 3-D printers, using their on-demand print services. It allows the car’s designers to create much more complex components than traditional methods using standard machines, and optimize the design in terms of physics for efficiency without being limited by traditional steel manufacturing processes.

The result is an ultra-efficient car that is as strong as steel and half the weight.

The 10-foot-long, 1,200 pound car takes about 2,500 hours of printing to finalize.

According to Wired, the car has design advantages that traditionally built automobiles simply never could.

“Besides easy reproduction, making the car body via FDM [fused deposition modeling] affords Kor the precise control that would be impossible with sheet metal,” Wired said. “When he builds the aforementioned bumper, the printer can add thickness and rigidity to specific sections. When applied to the right spots, this makes for a fender that’s as resilient as the one on your Prius, but much lighter. That translates to less weight to push, and a lighter car means more miles per gallon.”

So how does less weight and all that plastic translate into safety? For starters, the car’s design puts a safety “cage” like in NASACAR cars around the driver. Kor and his team hope to test the car’s highway safety under extreme conditions: at the track at Le Mans, France. The next step will be convincing federal agencies such as the NHSTA and Department of Transportation (DoT) that the car is safe and road-ready.

The car’s designers estimate from the prototype that the car, if it hits the market, will cost about $50,000 initially. Check out the Urbee 2’s test drive above.

Edited by Braden Becker
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