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article imageWorld's first 3-D printed plastic car, 1,200 lbs Urbee 2 racecar

By JohnThomas Didymus     Feb 28, 2013 in Technology
Jim Kor of Kor Ecologic is the brain behind Urbee 2, a car that gives maximum mileage per gallon based on the principle of lightweight construction using 3-D printing technology, an innovation that is poised to revolutionize manufacturing.
According to Wired.com, the advantage of using 3-D printing technology for building a car is that it so well suited for designing light plastic products and thus allows auto-designers to shift attention from developing bigger and more powerful engines needed to move heavy steel car bodies to developing an automobile with optimal aerodynamics.
Extreme Tech explains that compared to the 3-D printed Urbee, traditional cars are big and heavy because they are composed of numerous parts with joints and connecting parts and are made mostly out of steel for structural stability. But 3-D printing technology allows cars of the future to be designed and produced optimally with fewer parts using lighter materials that offer equal or even superior functionality and safety, including significant improvements in energy/fuel efficiency.
Kor's Urbee 2 is a prototype of such a car made from lightweight but super-strong plastic. The automobile with a tear-drop aerodynamic shape has exceptionally high energy efficiency.
Wired.com reports that Kor's vision is of a new generation of efficient urban vehicles produced not on traditional assembly lines with robotic arms welding heavy steel in a shower of sparks but in warehouses where plastic-spraying printers produce light, cheap and highly efficient automobiles. Such warehouses could revolutionize the car manufacturing industry because they could open up automobile manufacturing to a cottage industry of small auto manufactures challenging the established heavy automobile manufacturing industry.
Kor and his team built Urbee 2, a three-wheel, two passenger vehicle at RedEye, an on-demand 3-D printing facility.
The printer he used creates ABS plastic using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Wired.com reports. The process sprays molten polymer and builds up a complete part in thin microscopic layers allowing for an extremely flexible production process and high-precision control impossible to achieve in the traditional assembly line production process using sheet metal. Flexibility means that the production can be customized with the advantage of variety of patterns and structure.
The printer can build the entire Urbee with a curb weight of 544 kilograms in about 2,500 hours.
3-D printing machines are very highly automated. According to Wired.com, the high level of automation has led to operators referring to the building process as "lights out," a reference to the fact that you simply upload the design for, say, a bumper, switch off lights, walk out and return hours later to inspect an entire bumper that the printer created in the "lights out" hours.
The design freedom that comes with the 3-D printing process allows Kor to combine several parts of a traditional assembly-line produced car into a single unit or a simplified "unibody." This novel capability allows the producer to do away with a multitude of joints and connecting parts. What comes in the assembly-line car as a multitude of individual pieces of plastic and metal parts can be combined into a single "unibody" 3-D printed plastic shape.
Wired.com reports Kor said: "The thesis we’re following is to take small parts from a big car and make them single large pieces."
The advantage of using a single body shape piece instead of several is that the body has fewer spaces between parts and loses weight. This adds to the aerodynamic quality of the vehicle. Kor's entire production process is geared towards creating a vehicle with exceptional aerodynamic features. Wired.com reports that Urbee 2's teardrop shape gives it just a drag coefficient of just 0.15.
However, not all that will go into Urbee 2 is printed plastic. According to Wired.com, the engine and base chassis will be metal. Kor and his team have not decided who will make the hybrid engine, but the plan is to make a prototype engine with a maximum of 10 horsepower and a 36-volt electric motor.
To further draw public interest and investors, the team plans to take the Urbee 2 from San Francisco to New York on 10 gallons of gas.
Kor said: "The hope is that the drive will draw even more interest. We’re trying to prove without dispute that we did this drive with existing traffic. We’re hoping to make it in Google [Maps'] time, and we want to have the Guinness book of world records involved."
What about safety?
Kor explains: "We’re calling it race car safety. We want the car to pass the tech inspection required at Le Mans." He said: "We’re planning on making a matrix that will be stronger than FDM... Our goal with the final production Urbee, is to exceed most, if not all, current automotive safety standards."
Kor is even considering printing shock-absorbing parts between the exterior and the chassis, Wired.com reports.
Kor, who, according to CNET, has over 35 years of experience in designing for the automotive, civil, aerospace and medical industries, said: "We thought long and hard about [it]... It’s been the right move."
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