With more and more major auto manufacturers turning to composites to make stronger and lighter chassis, bodies, springs, wheels and other parts, one 3D printing laboratory is taking the movement a step further by 3D printing an entire car with carbon fiber. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is building 3D printed cars as part of their work for the Department of Energy to reinvigorate American manufacturing and increase our energy independence.
Virtually every unmoving part of the car, called Strati, comes from one of Oak Ridge’s 3D printers. Printing the car takes longer than traditional manufacturing – about 38 hours – but its cost, efficiency and detail offset the time commitment for some companies. Oak Ridge created the first Strati in May 2014 and drove it in June. Local Motors of Phoenix optimized the car so the motor, suspension and other moving parts could bolt onto the carbon fiber body.
“It drove marvelously, much better than I expected,” said James Earle, the engineer who printed the car at Oak Ridge for Local Motors. “One of the surprises was how quiet it is. There’s no sound from the frame, because it’s all one piece of carbon fiber.”
The next step comes at the International Manufacturing Technology Trade Show in Chicago this
September, where Local Motors and Cincinnati, Inc. will produce a third Strati. After the show, Local Motors does not plan to make more Stratis, but it may set up micro-manufacturing facilities where people can use 3D printing to create their own designs.
“3D printing is exploding,” Earle said. “It’s like the computer revolution of the ’80s. We have no idea what we’ll be able to do with the technology next.”