3D printing — parts, components and cars — has become all the rage

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(February 19, 2018) Additive manufacturing is all the rage these days, particularly when it comes to 3D printing. The idea of creating a new design, testing it in the computer, and outputting it to a 3D printer — thereby bypassing all of the intermediate steps, including component assembly and production — is alluring, especially to low-volume makers.

Porsche has begun to use the technology
to replicate a small number of parts for classics like the 356, 959, and 964. They are small items, like a filler cap seal for the 959 or a crank arm for the 964, and can be made on demand, and the printed component are tested to make sure they meet original standards.

Plus, use of additive technology means tooling costs are kept low, large parts runs are not necessary, and little space is needed to store them.

Bugatti also is using 3D printing, but for prototype parts, not old ones. In cooperation with Laser Zentrum Nord of Hamburg, Germany, Bugatti has developed a printed titanium brake caliper; the largest functional 3D-printed component ever made from the material. The material, which has the scientific designation Ti6AI4V, is normally used in aerospace to produce underbody and wing components, as well as parts for airplane and rocket engines.

It took just three months to go from concept to the first printed caliper, and 45 hours to print the part. The titanium powder is deposited layer by layer, and four lasers are used to simultaneously melt the powder. A total of 2,213 layers were required to create the caliper and its supporting framework, and this structure was then placed in a 1,292-degree oven to remove any residual stress in the part and ensure dimensional stability.

A combined mechanical, chemical, and physical process is then used to remove the support while improving the part’s fatigue strength. This is followed by 11 hours in a five-axis milling machine to contour functional surfaces like the piston contact area and threads. As this is a first-ever process for automotive, the team behind it is certain it can significantly reduce production and machining time.

And then there is Hackrod, a nascent digital manufacturing company that is looking to use rapid prototyping methods to build one-off and low-volume bespoke vehicles to the buyer’s specifications. Eventually, the group hopes to use virtual reality, the Internet of Things, and computer-aided design and engineering to build, test and manufacture unique vehicles without industry-level resources or the need for massive tooling budgets.

The “La Bandita” speedster is its proof-of-concept design, built around a recycled Tesla Model S powertrain, 3D skeleton spaceframe, and using a horizontally mounted, pushrod-activated inboard suspension front and rear.

Leading the technical charge is Hackrod Chief technology Officer Dr. Slade Gardner PhD, a Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Skunk Works Division fellow, while former VP of Design at Hot Wheels and Matchbox, Felix Holst, is the Chief Product Officer, and Fraser Campbell is the Principal Designer. Mouse McCoy (no, really), a former motorcycle racer and stuntman who was the director and producer of the movie Act of Valor, is Hackrod’s CEO. He and Holst are the company’s founding partners.

They’ve probably bit off more than they can chew, and pushed beyond the current boundaries of the various technologies they hope to employ, but the idea is an interesting one. You can learn more of the thought behind the project in the slickly produced video created to help raise funds through First Democracy VC, a partnership between the crowdsourcing portals Indiegogo and MicroVentures.