Large factories may soon no longer be needed to create automobiles. As 3D printing could become the brand new method to make cars, it may overthrow the practice that has been in use since the automobile industry first began: the assembly line. In Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a 3D print lab is working to see if this new method could become viable.
Jay Baron, President of the Center for Automotive Research, stated that the potential for the new technology is a “huge deal.” Baron said that 3D printing would completely eliminate tooling costs, greatly improve manufacturing flexibility, and make vehicles lighter and optimize the use of materials. Baron also suggested that the new method could provide a launch pad for even more ambitious endeavours since the complexities of construction will be completely taken care of by the printer.
The new 3D printing methodology has been cited to draw comparisons to the old methods of transportation vehicle construction, back when coachbuilders would design and build the body of each stagecoach to order, tailored to the customer’s concerns and preferences. Back in those days however, only the richest of the rich were able to pay for those services. The system Oak Ridge is working on may provide specifically tailored automotive vehicles at an extremely affordable price if the system is accepted into the mainstream.
James Earle, an engineer at the Oak Ridge Laboratory, expressed that 3D printing technology is booming, and it is a logical choice to become a new method to make cars. He compared it to the computer revolution in the ’80s, when people had no idea of the potential of the technology and no one had any idea what will happen next.
The project is part of Oak Ridge’s work to reinvigorate American manufacturing and increase energy independence. The utilization of 3D printers to create objects is more energy-efficient and cost-effective when compared to the traditional model. This is attributed to 3D printing being able to create products out of the same material without the heavy machinery commonly utilized in a factory setting. This heavy machinery commonly requires regular maintenance and consumes lots of energy.
Brian Post, another engineer for the project, said that his goal is to make 3D printers feasible for manufacturing. The process currently takes more time than traditional manufacturing, but Post assures that it’s efficiency and cost in material consumption tips the scale back in Oak Ridge’s model’s favor. The process that the 3D printing project is using, that could lead it to becoming the a new method to make cars, involves the laying down of powdered material, and using a laser beam or electronic beam to solidify it into exactly what is needed for the object.
It reduces waste drastically compared to machines that grind and drill to get their parts. When an aircraft manufacturer used 3D printing to produce titanium for its aircrafts, the wasteful loss of the material reduced from 30 percent to two. The Oak Ridge Lab already created a car with their technology and reported that it handled very well and is extremely quiet due to the frame being one solid piece.
By Andres Loubriel