|Using thermoplastic and carbon fibre, a 3D printer created the complete body an electric car.|
As far as printing jobs go, this one was on the long side — about 44 hours.
But that’s understandable, because the printer wasn’t just spitting out an English essay or directions from MapQuest. It was a very large 3D printer, and it made a car.
Well, not a complete car, but the complete body of a car. And a completely useable one, too. In fact, it’s already moving under its own (electrical) power.
It is the brainchild of Local Motors, a design firm based in Arizona. To prove the point that building 3D cars is both fast and requires considerably fewer parts than a conventional vehicle, Local Motors decided to print the car body, and then attach the 50 or so parts needed to make it run — all in front of a trade-show crowd at the recent International Technology Show in Chicago.
If that’s not enough, Local Motors expects the car, called Strati, to go on sale to the U.S. public some time in 2015, priced between $18,000 and $30,000.
Of course, it has yet to pass any crash tests. And, as currently conceived, it would fall under the “neighbourhood” vehicle classification. Strati is a low-speed, two-seat city car that’s bigger and better than a golf cart, but not designed for highway use.
Fitted with the electric powertrain from a Renault Twizy, the Srati can go about 100 kilometres on a full charge, and tops out at 80 km/h.
Let’s get back to how it was built, with that 3D printer.
Local Motors asked for design proposals that would be printer-friendly, and eventually selected one from Italian designer Michael Anoe. The design sketch was turned into a 3D computer image.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee supplied its large 3D printer for the event and somebody pressed the “go” button.
Instead of toner ink, the printer was fed a finely ground mixture of thermoplastic and carbon fibre. The printer nozzle precisely applied the mixture, one small layer at a time. Even with all those layers, the finished product looks, and is, one piece.
A specially made router was used to smooth the edges of the car for esthetics, and to prepare other sections to accept the mounting hardware.
The post-print assembly took about two days. Local Motors said the opportunity to print many components right into the main body made the overall build simpler, and reduced the number of individual parts.
The complete car has only 40 to 50 parts, compared to a conventional vehicle that has several hundred. (Although let’s not forget that the Strati is lacking a few things conventional cars usually offer, such as a roof.)
The printing process also allows for lots of individuality, design possibilities and colour options. It’s more or less a case of “insert design, press go.”
Local Motors is touting this 3D technology as an industry game changer, which will seriously compress the time it takes to go from simple sketch to finished vehicle.