Sep 20, 2016 | By Benedict

A group of students from China’s Changsha University of Science & Technology has built two copies of the FNX-16, China’s first 3D printed metal racing car. The 130 kmh (80 mph) carbon fiber vehicle will compete in the Chinese Formula Student race.

Although China has produced 3D printed cars before, the unveiling of the entirely student-designed FNX-16 racing car marks a significant milestone in the country’s automotive additive manufacturing scene. Produced by a group of incredibly dedicated students who worked overtime and even poured much of their own money into the project, the carbon fiber FNX-16 is China’s first metal 3D printed racing car, making it one of the most exciting student-run 3D printed car projects of recent times.

The Changsha students have actually built two near-identical versions of the FNX-16. One will compete in the upcoming Chinese Formula Student race on behalf of the university, while the other will be delivered to a corporate sponsor which invested significant funds in the project. Each vehicle weighs around 200 kg (441 lb), has a carbon fiber body, and can achieve a top speed of 130 kmh (80mph) with stable, agile handling. Yesterday afternoon the two vehicles went for a test drive at the university’s Jinpen Ridge campus, racing round the track at high speed, going for the occasional drift, and grabbing the attention of many observers.

"About three years ago, the Chinese car industry introduced polymer material 3D printing concepts,” explained FNX-16 team captain Zhao Shucheng. “Today, we have made the country's first metal 3D printing concept car. These metal 3D printed parts are stronger and more stable, but much more expensive. The building process is also more difficult.”

Developing and building the 3D printed racing cars was a mammoth task, with over 300 college students of different ages taking part in the project over the course of five semesters. The recently unveiled FNX-16, the model that will race in the Chinese Formula Student competition, is the fifth prototype of the vehicle, showing just how much time and energy has gone into the project. During the research phase, some hardworking students worked from 8:00 in the morning until late at night, with various team members investing a cumulative 10,000 RMB ($1,500) to supplement the 200,000 RMB ($30,000) provided by various sponsors from the 3D printing industry.

While one of the project’s main sponsors was responsible for actually 3D printing the car’s metal printed parts, the students themselves were responsible for engineering the design. According to the students, this was a grueling process. For example, a single suspension upright had to be reworked five times before it was fit for 3D printing. However, when the designs were complete, the sponsor used a selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer to fabricate the parts, which fitted together seamlessly thanks to their precisely engineered design. “The car manufacturing process has developed our way of thinking and exercised our ability to innovate,” Said team member Tao Yiwei. “FNX-16 only weighs about 200 kilograms, but it is much more stable than the previous version.”

According to the student team behind the 3D printed vehicle, additive manufacturing was used to cut costs and save time while still providing high quality components. “An intake manifold, wheels, steering, aerodynamics, and many other parts were all made using 3D printing technology.” said Wang Hui, another team member. “Had we used traditional production methods, we would have required the services of many companies, using different molds and machines, to make the small parts. With 3D printing technology, components only needed to be modeled in the software and then sent to the 3D printer. We could print out the entire system.”

In order to participate in the Chinese Formula Student race, in which the Changsha University of Science & Technology has taken part for five consecutive years, the FNX-16 cannot use anything more powerful than a 610cc four-stroke gasoline engine. As such, the team has opted for a 600cc motorcycle engine, chosen and implemented by the project’s dedicated power team. The entire group, which currently consists of around 50 students, also has a dedicated suspension group, body group, marketing group, and other specialist groups.

Car manufacturers to have experimented with additive manufacturing technology include BMW, which has used 3D printers since the early 1990s, and Audi, which last year used metal 3D printing to create a 1:2 3D printed replica of an Auto Union Type C. “The future of the automotive industry will inevitably make more extensive use of 3D printing technology,” Wang Hui added.

Thirsty for more information about 3D printed cars? Check out our recent list of 25 incredible 3D printed cars & automotive projects from around the world.

 

 

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