Audi’s 3D-printed replica of a Silver Arrow
Automakers are turning to 3D printing to explore new ways of making vehicles, especially for prototyping, and so far the experiments have been limited to plastic and carbon fibre parts and components. The first working 3D-printed car by Local Motors was showed off to the world just last year.
Audi is also interested in incorporating this cutting-edge technology into its manufacturing process, except it has taken a slightly different direction – by 3D printing metal parts. And the German automaker has built a race car from it. The proof of concept car is small – half the actual size, to be exact, so it looks like a kid’s toy car. The maximum print size that the equipment is capable of is only 9.5 x 7.9 inches. But, hey, it’s a good start. The German carmaker 3D printed the components to replicate a 1936 Auto Union Typ C race car, designed by the great Ferdinand Porsche himself. The original vehicle had a mid-mounted 16-cylinder engine and won several Grands Prix from 1936 to 1938.
As with any other 3D printing applications, the benefits are many – it cuts down on waste of material – in this case, metal – making it more cost-effective as well; it also reduces the time required to form intricate contours, which reduces assembly time. 3D printing using metal isn’t very different from using plastic – the metallic powder is placed by layers until the required shape is achieved, and a laser melts the layers, melding them together. What’s astounding is that the individual metal powder grain is less than half the diameter of a human hair, which means the precision, intricacy as well as the minute size that the printer can achieve is incredibly impressive. The parts are also denser than if formed by die-casting or hot-forming. The printer can work with both aluminium and steel, both of which are main building material for most chassis. Local Motors’ 3D-printed car uses 80% plastic and 20% carbon fibre.
Until they can actually 3D print a full-scale race car, we wouldn’t mind giving this tinier one a go – the engineer in the picture above does look like he is having too much fun to be at work.