3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, isn’t some futuristic pipe dream anymore.
The technologies aren’t gathering dust as prototype schematics, and the benefits don’t reside in the realm of fantasy. In 2012, Business Horizons named 3D printing ‘the new industrial revolution’. A decade later, that revolution is taking place.
As the world grows more and more focused on becoming carbon neutral, all aspects of design and production must come together and alter in order to make net zero a reality. It’s estimated that around ten percent of the total lifetime emissions from a standard car are released during its production. That’s 5.6 tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere for each automobile on the assembly line. It’s now vital that the ‘new industrial revolution’ shifts methods of production to a more sustainable architecture. Additive manufacturing has an expanding role to play on the road to carbon neutrality, and it is rising to the challenge.
3D printing processes are more space and energy efficient than traditional manufacturing, as printers are smaller than older methods of material creation and use less electricity to function. With techniques such as in-filling (whereby the product is partially hollow yet still retains strength), materials are used more efficiently. With subtractive manufacturing, the transportation of materials and products to different centres incurs heavily on the CO2 output; additive manufacturing, on the other hand, cuts out the need for pollution-intensive processes. For every 14 tonnes of CO2 released by subtractive manufacturing supply chains, 3D printing releases only 0.8.
Why Should We 3D Print Cars?
There are numerous reasons why additive manufacturing is taking over the automotive industry. 3D printing is faster than subtractive manufacturing at every stage of production. From flexible and rapid design stages, in which alterations can be made to digital models as opposed to physical prototypes, changes can be made to plans within hours. Prototypes and proofs of concept are quicker, cheaper, and easier to manufacture and test.
Processes such as in-filling make parts lighter and less resource intensive; lighter car parts mean less fuel consumption. In-filling also allows for internal cooling channels or cavities, meaning engines run more efficiently. The printing method of Topology Optimisation involves producing ‘organic’ shapes to serve functions only by creating the necessary areas of the part, with less resources being used as a result. 3D printing allows for more customisation of design, with a range of materials and styles for both aesthetic and practical purposes. The characteristics of parts can be controlled too, as layered printing means in-depth design changes are simple. 3D printers use nozzles and lights to create parts, which can be designed for accuracy unseen in subtractive manufacturing.
With 3D printing being more efficient and less time-consuming than traditional manufacturing methods, it makes much less sense to stock warehouses full of spare parts that may never be used. Custom and one-off orders are welcomed by 3D printing companies such as Prototal, meaning the supply and resupply chains are shortened. This contributes to the overall trend in additive manufacturing of less waste; printing, as opposed to shaping materials, means zero waste on the factory floor.
With lower rates of energy consumption, more effective use of materials, and a less-carbon intensive supply chain, 3D printing companies across the globe are designing or manufacturing cars made partially or entirely through additive manufacturing.
10 Iconic 3D Printed Cars
Though the technical specifics are a closely-guarded secret, this state-of-the-art Formula 1 racing car is a mix of traditional and additive manufacturing methods.
An American manufacturing company joined a partnership with the Renault Formula 1 team in 2019 to produce the R.S.19. The vice-president touted 3D printing as having the “ability to consolidate a global supply chain and scale qualified processes as needed”, explaining this “will enable the production of chassis and on-car components in record time”.
With kinetic and thermal energy recovery systems, the F1 team celebrated the 3D printing process. The head of partnerships for Renault Sports Racing lauded the “growing ecosystem of certified materials, processes and machines to boost parts availability and overall productivity”.
With a price tag of over $3 million, the Nio Electric Prototype 9 is a supercar that has already set multiple track records for the fastest lap made by an electric car.
Designed for the track, the entire chassis of the car is made from carbon fibre. With lithium ions that can run for over 400 miles before recharging, the entire printed carbon fibre weighs the same as the battery. Appearing on Amazon’s The Grand Tour and driven by Richard Hammond, the 3D printed Nio EP9 reached 186 mph in 15 seconds.
The two-seated interior is likewise printed carbon fibre, with four screens displaying performance data, track maps, and even the driver’s heart rate. The EP9 also has the possibility of driving autonomously, as shown when it set the record for doing so at speed at the Circuit of the Americas. Because of this impressive niche design, the Nio EP9 is not legal for mainstream use. It’s literally too cool for the roads.
Hailing from Deutschland, the EDAG CityBot is a 3D printed, multifunctional, and automated modular robot.
With uses including passenger and cargo transport, street cleaning, and park maintenance, the electric automaton reduces congestion and pollution. Concept and product owner, Johannes Barckmann, said “in combination with digitalization, autonomous driving is the biggest opportunity to effectively combat gridlock and redefine city and service functions.”
Digitalisation and automation aren’t the only things the CityBot is expanding horizons for. The use of 3D printing in its production makes it even more sustainable and revolutionary. From design through to functionality, the EDAG CityBot is a look into the future of urban transportation — and it premiered back in 2019!
The NERA (short for New Era) is an electric motorbike composed of 15 3D printed components. Yes, you read that right. This fully-functioning motorbike is made out of 15 parts.
Aside from electrical components, the entire bike is printed. Because of the process of 3D printing, the huge bulk underneath the seat which usually sits the engine is absent. The sleek, angled body is futuristic, with a uniform style to remind you that this is a vehicle made from a single method of production.
Featuring multiple recent revolutions made possible by additive manufacturing, such as airless tyres and flexible parts that don’t compromise structural integrity, the NERA is a proof of concept which we hope will lead to even more impressive models available for road use soon.
Produced from 1919 until 1924, the Ruston-Hornsby car was and is a rare vehicle. The result of a low-scale production run, this classic vehicle has since attained cult status.
A 1920 and a 1923 model have both been restored thanks to 3D printing. A totally new steering box was produced back in 2019, as was a replacement hood ornament. Rather than sourcing rare parts from other Ruston-Hornsby cars, or spending large sums of money on complex repairs, additive manufacturing enabled the owner to get their classic car back on the road.
The lack of blueprints for the parts didn’t send the restoration crashing off the road, nor did the incompatibility of modern tools, as additive manufacturing is a reflexive and versatile method of production. Someone associated with the project even said “what’s joyous is that we are working with [these cars] in the very same factory in which they were originally built 100 years ago”.
One of the few 3D printed cars on this list that has been released to the public, the XEV Yoyo is a compact electric car designed for tight urban driving conditions.
Printed from ABS (an opaque thermoplastic used for the production of LEGO bricks) using Fused Deposition Modelling, the Yoyo has a design which maximises customisation and both material and fuel efficiency. Both exterior and interior parts are printed via additive manufacturing.
Released predominantly in Italy, the city of Turin signed an agreement to host 100 of the XEV Yoyo electric cars as part of a car-sharing service. However, the two-seater vehicle is available for the public to buy for under 20,000 Euros.
Revealed back in 2015, this is the first hypercar to be developed using additive manufacturing.
Made from space-grade carbon fibre and aluminium alloys, the Blade is road ready and legal. Its printed chassis weighs under 50kg, and the car features a horsepower of 720. With design cues taken from jet planes, such as a sleek futuristic exterior and a central interior seat, both style and sustainability are at the core of the Blade.
CEO of Divergent 3D Kevin Czinger said, “what I’m trying to do is create a machine that takes manufacturing, which is still stuck in 100-year-old-plus technologies, into the digital age”. The Blade is what happens when you allow the new industrial revolution to enter the market.
AMIE Utility Vehicle
Developed by the US Department of Energy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, AMIE (Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy) is a unique example of how 3D printing is pushing us into the future.
Powered by natural gas, AMIE was created as part of a system by which 3D printed vehicles could charge 3D printed homes — and vice versa. Using bi-directional energy flow technology, renewable solar energy systems are used to power the batteries of the AMIE vehicle and a printed home unit. The energy can flow in any direction via a wireless set-up.
The multi-directional flow of solar and gas energy means that the house can receive electricity during cloudy weather, and the car can function even without fuel in the tank. Roderick Jackson of the ORNL said, “the challenges we face can’t wait for the innovation cycles that currently exist”, showing the dire need for technologies such as 3D printing to step up and change the world.
Slated for release in 2024, the $300,000 Cadillac CELESTIQ will feature over 100 unique 3D printed parts. Even for low-scale production cars such as this, that is an extraordinary percentage of the vehicle produced with additive manufacturing. From the steering wheel to critical safety features, 3D printing is all over the latest luxury car from Cadillac — and this comes with levels of customisation that have been unknown before. Forget personalised licence plates, just get your initials inscribed on the steering wheel before you make your purchase.
This major adoption of 3D printing technology has been spoken of with excitement from everyone involved in the production of this luxury electric car. Mark Ruess, president of General Motors, said, “CELESTIQ signifies a new, resurgent era for the brand. Each one will be hand-built by an amazing team of craftspeople on our historic Technical Center campus, and today’s investment announcement emphasises our commitment to delivering a world-class Cadillac with nothing but the best in craftsmanship, design, engineering and technology”.
The David Bowie Car
Revealed in 2019, this tribute to the iconic and groundbreaking music of David Bowie was first designed two decades ago. As a student, automotive designer Takumi Yamamoto drew sketches of a car inspired by Bowie’s songs. After starting his own freelance design business, Yamamoto was able to produce his tribute with the help of additive manufacturing.
Not happy with a scale model, Yamamoto realised the impossible shapes of his design would be possible only through additive manufacturing. Though not a drivable vehicle, “A Portrait of db” takes inspiration from his work and was one of the first 3D printed concept cars.
The Future of Car Manufacturing
With traditional manufacturing releasing a tenth of the total emissions of a standard car, it’s more important than ever that 3D printing steps up and takes over the reins of vehicle design and production. Additive manufacturing not only offers the future of automotive design and manufacture, it holds the power for retroactive car creation too. With a world of new possibilities and potentials unlocked by 3D printing, it has become clear that additive manufacturing also holds the key to a sustainable and carbon neutral future.