Aug 31, 2016 | By Alec

3D printing is rapidly taking over the automotive industry, especially as a prototyping tool and even for the occasional 3D printed interior. And of course Local Motors is developing the real deal: the world’s first road-ready 3D printed car. But they are by no means the only player to bring 3D printing into the actual manufacturing realm, as a team of LA-based hackers called Hack Rod is currently 3D printing custom 3D printed dune buggies. And they are actually taking an even more hi-tech approach, as their 3D printed chassis are generated by AI and are constantly adapted for optimal performance.

As you can see for yourself, these 3D printed cars are absolutely badass and look as though they’ve come straight out of Mad Max’s desolate dystopian desert world. And yet, this isn’t just about thrill riding, as there’s a very detailed plan behind these cars. Hack Rod, led by stunt specialist Mouse McCoy, stunt driver Gregg ‘TG’ Tracy and automotive industry expert Felix Holst, have actually completely packed their hot-rods with sensors – collecting data of every single aspect of car performance. Combined with an analysis of the terrain they’re driving on, it enables them to program AI to optimize car design and ensure high strength, high speed and reliable performance. 3D printing, finally, enables them to quickly come up with new and improved dune buggies.

This is quite revolutionary, as the basic car chassis hasn’t changed much over the years. But by bringing generative design into the equation, they are changing the rules of development. “This is an unprecedented period in industrial history. We find ourselves at the apex of generative design solutions creating never before achievable structures and additive manufacturing making productions of these structures possible for the first time,” they explain. And through partnerships with Autodesk (for their Dreamcatcher generative design system), America Makes, Alcoa, Lockheed Martin and UPS, anything is possible.

What they are envisioning, is a future in which design is completely integrated into the digital realm. A future in which designers and engineers can take “a vehicle from pencil sketch to fully resolved aerodynamic solutions with one suite of software,” they say. In such a system, model designed in Fusion 360 can be imported into Autodesk Flow Analysis for aerodynamic and performance testing long before anything is manufactured. All that engineering knowledge can thus be automatically applied, shaving weeks off development times. This will enable highly efficient manufacturing, with plenty of room for customization.

Hack Rod actually started by 3D scanning a pre-made chassis and uploading it to the cloud. After absolutely packing it with sensors, they pushed it to its material limits and gathered all possible performance data. Through Dreamcatcher software (which uses NVIDIA GPUs), all that data is analyzed and used to generate new design suggestions that overcome any of the original weak points. Theoretically, that system can be used again and again to come up with the ultimate design.

Generative design is thus of crucial importance to Hack Rod, as it allows for a very open trial and error system that puts every aspect of a new car design in the spotlight. Perfect for racers like McCoy, who has previously won the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 and is all about pushing vehicles to the breaking point. By seeing exactly what a 3D printed chassis can and cannot do, they set new standards for custom manufacturing. Even the driver is not left alone, as they are wearing brain sensors that register emotion and responses.

This is obviously very important for racing cars, that are all about performance, but Hack Rod is also trying to accommodate individual preferences by embedding a series of commands in the generative design. This can then be used to develop very efficient, but customized, vehicles. And as demands for individuality and creativity are beginning to outweigh demands for mass-production, they could be on to something.

Hack Rod is thus trying to find their place in the automotive industry of tomorrow, and 3D printing plays a key role in that process. For starters, it allows them to fully optimize their designs rapidly. But it also paves the way for specialist vendors from all over the world, who can 3D print exactly what a customer desires. “The new world of industrial additive manufacturing does not care about quantity. Whether it is one part or a thousand pieces, specialist vendors throughout the nation will be able to print exactly what you want and deliver it to your door,” they say.

In the future, this could even turn into an on-demand system for DIY car builders, with cars becoming more like Lego kits than complete products. While the majority of consumers will obviously prefer the old-fashioned version, this new market is growing. Cars are becoming smarter, more efficient and more adaptable than ever, and 3D printing will play a key role in that process.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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