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3-D Printed Car Nears Production 93

An anonymous reader writes "An article at Wired shows just how close we are to a 3-D printed car. Jim Kor's 'Urbee 2' design is a lightweight teardrop shape with three wheels. The engine, chassis, and wheels aren't printed, of course, but much of the car is formed layer-by-layer out of ABS plastic. It takes about 2,500 hours of printer time to create the whole thing. Assembly is easier, though, since many different parts can be consolidated into just a few. 'To negotiate the inevitable obstacles presented by a potentially incredulous NHSTA and DOT, the answer is easy. "In many states and many countries, Urbee will be technically registered as a motorcycle," Kor says. It makes sense. With three wheels and a curb weight of less than 1,200 pounds, it's more motorcycle than passenger car. No matter what, the bumpers will be just as strong as their sheet-metal equivalents. "We're planning on making a matrix that will be stronger than FDM," says Kor. He admits that yes, "There is a danger in breaking one piece and have to recreate the whole thing." The safety decisions that'll determine the car's construction lie ahead. Kor and his team have been tweaking the safety by using crash simulation software, but the full spectrum of testing will have to wait for an influx of investment cash.'"
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3-D Printed Car Nears Production

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  • by waddgodd ( 34934 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:31AM (#43033377) Homepage Journal

    The (non-existent yet) engine is supposed to be a 10 HP Diesel, but "the head engineer is planning to take the latest prototype from San Francisco to New York on 10 gallons of gas, preferably pure ethanol" (FTFA). Diesel-cycle engines work better on esters rather than alcohols. Even assuming that you could keep a diesel-cycle engine happy with ethanol (which is an open question), the modifications required to make it work will basically make it useless for the standard diesel you find at truck stops. Had the engineer said that he planned to go SFO->NYC on 10 gallons of fuel, preferably biodiesel (which has more in common with cooking oil than liquor), I'd have more confidence that the engineer knew a hawk from a handsaw.

    • That's 2,905 miles (4675 km). They're estimating 290 MPG. 0.81 L / (100 km)

      VW had a prototype out for the 1L car that was much more streamlined and still only got 1L/100 km.

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      You can use compression engines with alcohols, but yeah that change will then exclude running pump fuel.

      Besides pure ethanol is nasty stuff for an engine. No diesel fuel pump is going to like it either.

    • It will have a Diesel Cycle engine, that is all. It might well be running an insane rpm with a pseudo 2-stroke cycle (ignition on every cycle) with inlet/outlet controlled by solenoids; a computerised fly-by-wire engine.. There are lots of clever designs around these days that break the 'rules' of traditional, entrenched, engine design.

      ie. Traditional automotive diesels might not work well with ethanol, but that does not mean it is true for all diesel cycle designs.

    • by DeTech ( 2589785 )
      It's clear they have no idea what they're doing...
    • by Rhys ( 96510 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @10:53AM (#43034207)

      I'm bemused the assumption is the engineer is an idiot, not the reporter or marketdroid that wrote it.

    • Diesel-cycle engines work better on esters rather than alcohols.

      That might well be true, I don't know, but I do know that E95 has been successfully used in a road test without significantly increasing wear or reducing power. They increased compression, but this was in a direct-injected diesel which would have had low compression compared to an old-school indirect-injected model, since they said they increased it to around 22:1, which is about what my mercedes and my ford both run. So if you had a dinky IDI you could probably reasonably run it on E95. But if you're talki

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:41AM (#43033421)

    From the title of TFA: Stronger than Steel.

    I doubt it.

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:57AM (#43033523)

      I don't. Lots of common materials are stronger than steel in either compression or tension or for a given mass. Most hit only one of those, the rare materials that get all three costs many times what steel costs and have far more complicated fabbing processes. Like this 3D printed car, which I bet costs a lot more than stamping body panels with a transfer press.

      • I'm not saying other materials aren't stronger than steel. Obviously carbon fibre is, and is already used in car manufacture. But strong materials rely on specific crystalisation structures (steel) or fibres (carbon fibre).And those don't tend to magically come about from melting some goo in the nozzle of a 3D printer. 3D printed stuff is fragile.

        Heck if their process were really stronger than steel, why are they making the chassis out of steel? Duh!

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          They are spraying down layers of ABS. This may well be stronger than similar mass steel, just because the density is so low compared to steel. This is typical of people promising magic. They lie by omission.

        • by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

          I wonder if they can do a two-stage composite process... have a steel chassis set up, then have the 3D printer do its "printing" around and encapsulate the frame in the design completely. Done right, it would be similar to rebar in concrete, producing both the shape wanted, but with far more strength than the plastic alone.

        • Or maybe you can stretch carbon fiber across the unit, lay down ABS, stretch it back, lay down more ABS... change the angle 45 degrees...

          But that's not what this company is doing.

      • Exactly my thought (you may behave as if you'd have been moderated +1 Insightful)
      • It may have a higher yield strength than steel, but it snaps at that point instead of continuing to deform. That means it will be strong enough to drive, but will not pass a crash test. Game over.

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          It can still pass a crash test if you mold pieces to break at known points. They do this will all carbon fibre cars. It is super expensive.

          • Are there any carbon fiber cars that do not have a metal chassis?

            • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

              Most of them have some metal and use the engine as a chassis member. There are many that have some chassis parts that are not metal. I do not know of any without metal at all in the chassis and since you would be using the engine as a chassis member I doubt you could build such a thing.

              There are quite a few that do use the structure as part of the crash safety system.

            • The steel chassis could easily be very much weaker than the plastic body.

              Materials aren't only chosen for their strength. Maybe they want to use a steel chassis which is less likely to deform under light stress, but will catastrophically fail well before the plastic panels do.

        • No, ABS does not, and never will have a higher yield strength than steel.
          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

            For a given mass it does when both are a fixed area.

            So if you have a 1 ft sq of material, ABS and steel and both must mass only a few grams the ABS will be stronger.

            This sounds misleading and is why they say it that way.

  • All the car manufacturers will take the technology they like and can use (printed bumpers for example) and leave the home grown printers to it, while laughing.

    • All the car manufacturers will take the technology they like and can use (printed bumpers for example) and leave the home grown printers to it, while laughing.

      No they won't. It's cheaper to mold parts.

      • It's cheaper to mold parts.

        It's cheaper if you already have the moulding equipment (which is pretty heavy duty for parts this big) and are making runs big enough to recover the cost of making the moulds for each design.

        Small scale manufacture, especially if geared towards individualised vehicles based around standardised chassis/engine/safetycell designs, will print them on site and on demand.

      • by sadr ( 88903 )

        However, you can't mold honeycombs, foams, or other objects with complex internal structures that might be more efficient.

        Then it's just a question of comparing the costs of industrial printing a part vs. the other ways you can improve vehicle efficiency.

        • You can't 3D print foams. There has to be a way for the unfixed matrix material to get out. But you're correct in that you can 3D print shapes that cannot be molded. But ultimately, 3D printing will not displace molding as a technology for making plastic parts, because once you get over a certain volume, the plastic parts are much cheaper. So those for which there is a large market -- more than a few hundred pieces of a particular design and not simple enough to machine, molding will always be the pred

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Would you download a car?

  • by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:48AM (#43033459)

    That's 104 days. I don't see the economics working out.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      you'd think it would be probably possible to construct a printer that does it much faster.
      multiple print heads and so forth.

      100 days is too much.

      printing allows for inside structures impossible with molding though.

    • by mothlos ( 832302 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:59AM (#43033555)

      While I am skeptical about a lot of things in this project, this likely isn't as bad as one might think. This is the full serial time to build all of the components, which could be parallelized, meaning that in production they would only have to worry about the single component with the longest generation time. This is probably still quite a long time using this technique.

      • by pepty ( 1976012 )
        It can be parallelized, and I'm certain that printers optimized for the different parts would speed things up a bit, but getting the process up to 1 car per week would still require 15-20 printers instead of one. Somehow I see them switching to molded parts wherever practicable if they start production.
    • If you print it in your own garage, who cares?

      If you can team up with some friends and share the parts you print, it is even better.

      Ofc it is not economical for a current car manufactory ... but it might be for home made cars.

    • by Bigby ( 659157 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @12:13PM (#43035287)

      In 1995, it took hours to download a few MBs. I don't see the digital music business ever working out, let alone videos and movie streaming.

      • by iroll ( 717924 )

        This just in: given unlimited resources, people can do simple things in impractical ways. Film at 11.

        In 1995, it was impractical to download videos on demand. Being the first idiot to wait 104 days for a video to download doesn't make you a pioneer; it means you have the resources to waste doing something impractical.

        These kind of demonstrations are different than actually doing something to develop the technology. We know what the state of the art is, and we see inklings of what could be done in the fu

    • by gutnor ( 872759 )

      Obviously 100+ days is not quite fast enough. But considering the technology is so new, that is not unreasonable we will get the production time down to 10 days by just refining the existing technique.

      10 days seems long, but what matter is the footprint of the printer and its cost. If it is small and cheap enough you can basically spread and stack them all around the country. The efficiency of on-demand, on-site production will more than make up for the slowness of the process.

  • by drsmithy ( 35869 ) <drsmithy@gm a i l . c om> on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:54AM (#43033497)

    Yes, yes I would.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The engine, chassis, and wheels aren't printed, of course"

    So, the bits that make it go. The bits that distinguish it as a car instead of being a small room with some uncomfortable chairs.

    Anybody can stick a fucking wooden box on a car base and call it a car.

  • Stability? (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by systemidx ( 2708649 )
    Why is the one wheel at the front? What's going to happen when this thing goes around a turn? All I can see is a very expensive reliant robin.
  • A 3D printer is certainly good for prototyping. For actually production? Not so much.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @10:21AM (#43033825)

    Covering the front wheels like that is a bad move, SAAB taught the world that long ago. They had to flare out the wheel arches to deal with it when they built the Ursaab prototype.

    Snow will build up between the wheels and the body, the driver will not notice this until he tries to turn and the car continues in a straight line.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursaab [wikipedia.org]

    • Good catch. That's scary as hell! I could be driving along a long stretch of interstate for several hours only later to find out I can only make a few degrees turn? Assuming that snow compacts into a ice, that's a very big problem. Deadly in fact. Aside from suspension, that's another good reason to have deep wheel wells above.

  • FDM is slow compared to new SLA, micro-nozzle and inkjet deposition processes. I'm not sure what FDM printer tech from the 80's they are currently using, but by using newer additive manufacturing techniques and new materials they can cut their 2500 hour print time down to well under 250. Inkjet and SLA is capable of print rates in the Liters per Hour and easily down to the 10's of microns of resolution. You just won't find these types of printers sold by the old 3D printer co's sitting on their old 80's te

  • w/ the CNC milling machine I've just gotten together ( http://www.shapeoko.com/ [shapeoko.com] ) and added a drive shaft upgrade to --- still need to finish documenting that on the wiki.

    The Twike ( http://www.twike.com/ [twike.com] ) is essentially an enclosed electric three-wheeled cycle, I think I'll be able to bring it in a bit under the ~$20,000 it'd cost to import one.

    Adding 3D printing functionality to the ShapeOko would certainly make the manufacture a bit more flexible.


  • From TFA:
    "The design puts a tubular metal cage around the driver, “like a NASCAR roll cage,” Kor claims."

    So all the load bearing parts are metal. What we really have is a tube-frame car with a plastic body. Great job suckering Wired into providing free advertising.

  • will soon be reclassified as the dumb schmuck who ran out of ink.

  • I just hope that it's stable. Just look at what Mr. Bean does to the 3 wheeled car all the time. http://youtu.be/Gb54PRcekIY [youtu.be]
  • I have to wonder if there are burn rate / toxicity requirements for passenger cars, such as for aircraft. That could put a fiery wrench into the works.
  • The design for this car appears to be inspired by R. Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car [wikipedia.org]. It features a similar aerodynamic "teardrop" shape and the same three-wheel design, although his was much bigger (and more fuel-efficient than most of today's cars). I'm surprised this wasn't mentioned anywhere in the article. There is a great video [youtube.com] of the car doing laps around a traffic guard. Bucky was in the Navy and was fond of sailing, and he said that having the single wheel in the back made it feel more like you w

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"