There are few limitations to what you can potentially do with 3D printing service and with the number of materials its now possible to print with, the fact that you can print items with parts in situ so even moving parts can be printed pre assembled and the potential to print in full color it would seem that the only limitations are size and price. However when you look at some of 3D Systems’ larger printers in their range you’ll see that size isn’t such an issue and larger printers don’t exist only because of lack of demand, demand in turn may depend on prices and they have been falling for both printers and materials.
A recent exercise by KOR Ecologic demonstrates just what can be done with a 3D printing service, and the advantages of using this method.
The Urbee, short for Urban Electric is a 3D printed car, or at least the body work is. KOR Ecologic who have designed and made it have used standard parts for most of the inner workings of the car but for producing the bodywork they had a few requirements that made using a 3D printing service ideal.
First was budget, KOR Ecologic hope this will become a mass market product but like many would be manufacturers it is nigh on impossible to get investment to go into mass production when demand hasn’t been proven. With cars especially making panels, even using something like fiberglass, is very expensive for low production runs as these are techniques that favor production runs in the hundreds at least, for metal bodied cars the investment in plant and machinery is even higher.
The 3D printed car body though can be done using one large 3D printer and the 3D printing service can be used whenever an order is made so they only need to make parts when they have a order, or perhaps when some of a small stock of finished cars have been sold.
This massively reduced the risk for KOR Ecologic then of going into an industry that hasn’t seen any serious new entrants in North America for decades.
The second important thing about using a 3D printing service though is that it allowed panels to be made with a very light but strong structure. Most of the weight in modern cars comes from the fact they must be able to withstand accidents: therefore you have a heavy, solid chassis and then reinforced panels.
A standard car door weighs upwards of 50kg, with a 3D printed deign they can weigh a fraction of this. Not only is a lightweight but tough plastic used but because 3D printing builds up layers so the internal structure can be very detailed, this mean the strength comes not from a panel being solid but from the structure. For an environmentally friendly car this is important as it drastically lowers the weight meaning that even a small electric motor can get the car up to a good speed and it of course also means that less materials are used in production, also keeping production costs low.