Sep 18, 2015 | By Benedict

Earlier this year, we saw how a 3D-printed replica of a Toyota 4 Cylinder Engine could be built to function just like the original. Now, the Japanese motor giant Toyota is doing the 3D-printing themselves to create a special lightweight seat.

Wanting to produce a lightweight car seat prototype with a minimal volume and an optimal heat capacity, Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Central R&D Labs Inc. contacted additive manufacturing firm Materialise about the possibility of collaboration. Excited by the prospect of working with such a reputable company and on such an exciting project, Materialise accepted the offer. To obtain a lightweight car seat prototype, Toyota and Materialise used a special type of topology optimization. By assigning material density to specific regions, the design was divided into high- and low-density areas. Areas that required more strength were assigned higher density, whilst areas subject to less force were assigned a lower density. Toyota’s topology data was then represented by gray value images that could be read by Mimics and transformed into a 3D model. This patterning allowed for a substantial reduction in material required, resulting in lower costs and—crucially—a smaller mass.

To populate the low-density areas, Materialise developed a new unit cell in 3-maticSTL specifically for this project. The low-density areas, with larger air pockets than the high-density areas, increased user comfort by allowing the heat of the car seat to dissipate. In addition to the creation of a new unit structure, 3-maticSTL was used to remove dangling edges of the unit cells and to improve the comfort of the seat by adding a surface pattern of elastic beams. Not quite a hammock, but a real improvement on the bare surface.

Materialise have since explained the organic inspiration behind their design. They believe that to obtain an optimal design, it is often useful to look at nature. Ages of evolution have formed optimized structures that offer valuable solutions for present-day issues in design and engineering. The human body is, after all, the greatest machine in the world, regardless of what Toyota might argue. Toyota’s car seat design was inspired by bone structure, resulting in the aforementioned gradient topology optimization with high-density and low-density areas, which was designed with the Materialise software Mimics. The design was then perfected and provided with a pattern in 3-maticSTL, and oriented on the build platform with Magics.

Because of its great complexity, Toyota’s lightweight design filled with unit cells and a surface pattern was very hard to handle, and it was nigh on impossible to adapt, store and transfer the numerous triangles in STL. Facing this problem, Materialise developed a technology that makes it possible to easily work with complex, big data: slice-based operations technology. The slice-based operations apply the 3D geometry at the slice level instead of at the STL level, and save all information about structures and textures as metadata. This results in a huge saving of data: the estimated STL file size was 250 GB, while the file size of the metadata was only 36 MB. Without slice-based operations and the Build Processor technology, the production of Toyota’s car seat prototype would have been impossible.

Images from Materialise

In the end, the design was a total success. Using Materialise’s technology, Toyota’s car seat volume was reduced by 72%: a weight reduction from 25kg to 7kg. Furthermore, heat capacity was reduced from 35.4 to 14.5J/K. Although engineers at Materialise were greatly challenged in creating such a revolutionizing model and manipulating such large quantities of data, the stimulating project led to new features in their software which will prove valuable in other projects. The positive results of the project also mean that Toyota will likely use it as a springboard for further developments, applying topology optimization and employing the use of 3D printing again in future.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Feign wrote at 9/22/2015 11:13:17 PM:

Looks really comfy actually, but I would be very surprised if I sat in it and didn't crush it with my 130kg bulk...

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