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Energy & Green Tech Manufacturing

Will the Car of the Future Be Printable?

The Urbee at the EuroMold trade show in Germany (photo via urbeecar.blogspot.com)

We’ve already seen 3D-printed guitars, motorcycles, and even stem cells. Is 3D printing ready to disrupt the auto industry? It could happen sooner than you think. The Urbee 2, a lightweight three-wheeled, two-passenger vehicle designed to be constructed from 3D-printed materials, is the brainchild of engineer Jim Kor. Using ABS plastic and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)—an automated, additive process that prints all of the car’s parts in about 2,500 hours—Kor and his team have created a prototype at the on-demand 3D-printing facility RedEye. The printing process allows for advanced precision in calibrating material thickness and resilience, but yields a vehicle that’s much lighter—about 1,200 pounds—than anything currently on the market. This means better fuel efficiency. The ability to print unibody shapes that combine a traditional car’s multiple parts further reduces weight, and streamlines the construction process.

Predictably, there are a few kinks to work through. The engine and chassis will be metal, but the Urbee team hasn’t yet chosen a manufacturer for the hybrid engine. And then there’s the question of safety. As reported by Wired, Kor wants the Urbee to pass the same tech inspection used for race cars at Le Mans, in part by using a tubular metal cage around the driver and, possibly, 3D-printed shock-absorbing parts. Still, it’s likely that in many places where it’s used, the Urbee will be registered as a motorcycle. One lingering drawback: if you break one of the unibody pieces of the car, it means replacing, or re-printing, more than just a small part. The price tag—estimated at $50,000 for the original Urbee prototype—could also make the casual buyer go to pieces.

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