Nov 29, 2015 | By Alec

Over the past few years, high quality 3D printing has steadily been finding its way into the automobile industry. While some companies are now seeing it as an actual manufacturing tool – such as Opel as we learned last week – 3D printers are especially being used for prototyping and design. And it’s obvious that 3D printing is there to stay, as GM has just revealed that they are working on a $30 million wind tunnel, especially for testing small, partially 3D printed vehicles. The goal is to optimize car aerodynamics while reducing operating costs, and will be used scaled down (up to 40 percent of an actual car) models made with clay and 3D printed parts to do so.

With this new Reduced Scale Wind Tunnel facility, that is a massive 35,000-square-foot in size and has been built right next to GM’s full scale wind tunnel, that has been in use since 1980, in Warren, Michigan. This new aerodynamic testing facility is equipped with everything they need to simulate real-size driving conditions, even highway driving with top speeds of up to 155 mph. Together with the main facility, GM hopes to turn this testing location into a competitive advantage over competitors.

As General Motors says, this will give them a greater testing capacity for quieter and more efficient vehicles. ‘General Motors is now able to accelerate and verify fuel-saving designs earlier in development of new cars and trucks thanks to a new reduced scale wind tunnel test facility on the campus of the company’s Technical Center,’ they state. The cars themselves will be partially made out of clay, and feature 3D printed underbodies, engine blocks and more to make these replicas as accurate as possible. That means working suspensions, spinning wheels and more to find out exactly how airflow affects a car’s underbody while in motion.

As the same time, GM is working to upgrade the full-scale wind tunnel to optimize their capacity. ‘The combined capabilities of our new reduced-scale and full-scale wind tunnels allow us to reach industry-leading levels of aerodynamic refinement,’ said Ken Morris, vice president, GM Global Product Integrity. ‘We view the new $30 million reduced scale wind tunnel as an investment towards a better, more energy-efficient future.’

While $30 million sounds like a lot to you and me, GM believes that it will be well worth it to ensure that their vehicles will be able to comply with impending changes to greenhouse gas laws. Optimizing fuel use is one way to do so, and it will be very interesting to see what these 3D printed scale models can contribute to that process. According to GM’s global director of carbon dioxide strategy, reducing wind resistance and air turbulence is one of the most efficient ways to optimize fuel consumption and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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