Nov 22, 2016 | By Nick

Divergent Microfactories boss Kevin Czinger believes his 3D printed Blade supercar, one of our top 25 3D printed cars in the world, can provide a blueprint for car manufacturers and bring the "flatpack furniture" production model to the automotive world.

Czinger is the brains behind the Blade supercar, a vehicle that offers a new approach to car design. The key principle of the vehicle is a modular chassis that is constructed from carbon-fiber tubes that slot into 70 3D printed aluminum nodes. These connector blocks combine with the lightweight carbon fiber of the car body to give the Blade a rigid structure. It also means that the car could be assembled in Czinger's proposed $5 million microfactories, situated close to prospective customers, which would reduce transport costs and reduce emissions produced during the manufacturing stage.

To supply a Blade Supercar, all Czinger's company has to do is ship the tubes, nodes, and composite body panels as a flatpack kit, essentially a grown-up Lego set, to microfactories around the world. Eventually, however, local 3D print shops could take over the production of the parts and cut transport from the equation altogether. That would have a massive effect on the car’s overall environmental impact, while the simplicity of the modular structure means it doesn’t require highly skilled engineers to assemble the car. With basic training, a competent mechanic can put a chassis together in approximately 30 minutes.

Such a short assembly time could change the whole complexion of the automotive industry and pave the way for boutique and even mainstream manufacturers to adopt this new process. The CSA group, comprising Peugeot, Citroen and DS brands, have already signed a partnership deal with Divergent Microfactories, while international R&D consultant Altran has invested in the company. Like Local Motors, which made waves with the 3D printed Strati car and autonomous Olli bus, Divergent Microfactories wants to use 3D printing to move away from the traditional concept of building cars on production lines and transporting them around the world.

“Society has made great strides in its awareness and adoption of cleaner and greener cars,” said Czinger. “The problem is that while these cars do now exist, the actual manufacturing of them is anything but environmentally friendly. At Divergent Microfactories, we’ve found a way to make automobiles that holds the promise of radically reducing the resource use and pollution generated by manufacturing.”

The Blade supercar is currently Divergent's main attraction, but it’s really just the start for Czinger's ambitious enterprise. The company is already working on a sedan and pick-up truck, so there will soon be a complete line-up of lightweight, carbon-fiber cars in the designer's rapidly expanding showroom.

The Blade itself is a masterclass of modern engineering, using 3D printing and lateral thinking to create a chassis that weighs just 61lb, compared to 1000lb for a traditional steel alternative. The whole car weighs just 1400lb, which is 50% lighter than comparable supercars. That makes a big difference to its fuel economy, which is approximately 66% lower than an equivalent petrol car, and even affects the amount of wear and tear the car inflicts on the road surface.

Czinger insists that the Blade is stronger than the steel alternatives on the market, and his company’s first supercar is also blisteringly fast. With a four-cylinder, 700bhp, bi-fuel engine that can operate on either gasoline or CNG, this lightweight machine hits 60mph in 2.2 seconds and boasts more than twice the power-to-weight ratio of the LaFerrari.

The Blade looks outlandish enough to succeed in the rarefied supercar sector, and if Czinger can turn the car into a production reality and hit his target of 10,000 cars a year, then it is possible that the designer might seek to experiment with more 3D printed elements for future versions of the vehicle. At present, the 3D printed joints of the supercar make up only a relatively small part of the vehicle, but that could change if Czinger and his team seek to make further use of additive technology.

As an interesting aside, Czinger revealed that the body panels are not stressed members. That means they can be fully customized according to the customer’s wishes and can be made of almost any material, from carbon fiber through to oddball options like Spandex. While the customer will lose some aerodynamic efficiency and potentially a little speed at the top end as a result, all the structural rigidity comes from the chassis, giving the customer freedom to experiment with panel materials.

Mass customization is becoming an increasingly important aspect of additive manufacturing. If Czinger can give his customers totally bespoke bodywork with the 3D printer, as well as ramping up the local production facilities, then Divergent Microfactories will have a compelling product on its hands.

We will watch this one with interest.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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