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This Batshit Sports Car Was 3D Printed From Laser-Melted Metal

Image: Gizmodo
Image: Gizmodo

The hype around consumer 3D printers has mostly died down, but that hasn’t stopped the startup Divergent 3D from barreling full steam ahead in the industrial printing world. The company debuted the first 3D-printed supercar—the Blade–two years ago and has since continued developing its printing methods. Now, it’s working with major industry players like Peugeot and SLM Solutions to use its printing methods at mass scale.

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The reason why Divergent 3D is so committed to industrial printing (despite the ridiculously high and costly risks) is that the benefits of printing car parts appears to be obvious: Printing components, rather than stamping them out using traditional injection molding or casting, lets carmakers customize every detail of a car part. It also lets engineers turn out ideas more quickly. Printing car components, at least in theory, will reduce the cost of retooling factory machines every time an engineer wants to try out a new idea. That will hopefully lead to more adventurous and more ambitious projects—exactly like The Blade.

Image: Gizmodo
Image: Gizmodo
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One of the big benefits to Divergent 3D’s printing methods is that it allows engineers to customize car components, essentially giving them even greater control over how a car is assembled. For example, they can add more material to specific stress points or leave holes in areas where it’s possible to reduce weight (something that makes the car way faster). The benefits can often be startling. That’s why The Blade’s chassis weighs only 1,400 pounds—about three times lighter than a Tesla Model S.

Because of these advantages, carmaker Peugeot has finally jumped on the 3D-printing bandwagon. The new strategic partnership between Peugeot and Divergent 3D is basically just the first step in a slow march for major carmakers that will more than likely take many years to be used widespread.

Still, it’s the first sign that a major carmaker is willing to give 3D printing parts a chance. The companies haven’t given any specifics about how many parts it will print and haven’t stated any specific goals for the partnership—but it’s clear that Peugeot is at least interested in exploring the cost savings.

Illustration for article titled This Batshit Sports Car Was 3D Printed From Laser-Melted Metal
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Now for the drawbacks: You don’t see more car companies 3D printing components for two big reasons. One is the rate of printing or basically the speed at which they can print car components. Right now, the process is way too slow—much like desktop printers—so it wouldn’t make sense for the biggest car companies to try to mass produce something like a Ford Taurus using a 3D printer.

The other major obstruction is the reliability of the materials. The printers used in industrial settings require lasers to melt metal powders, layer by layer, on top of each other until an object is complete. The problem is that it’s hard to guarantee that you’ll get quality materials every single time. This is obviously a huge risk for big carmakers and one that’s unjustifiable for now.

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Of course, this will all change as long as companies like Divergent 3D continue developing new partnerships and methods to increase reliability. Much like desktop printers, industrial-sized ones will also get faster. The materials will also become more reliable as companies begin to adopt these new methods.

It might be a long time from now, but if Divergent 3D—and other companies like it—keep refining this technology, it’s hard to imagine why the biggest players in the car world wouldn’t want to adopt this production method in some capacity.

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Update 12:15 ET: The original article incorrectly stated Peugeot and Divergent 3D struck an $12 billion partnership. The terms of the agreement have not yet been released, and the article now reflects this.

We’re on the ground at CES 2017 in Las Vegas! Follow all of our coverage of the latest and greatest in tech here.

Technology editor at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

jcl622
eyeloveteeth

this process is called Selective Laser melting - and while it does give a more PURE metal, it’s also more dense, and I actually believe the oxide layers during casting make it lighter.

I don’t see any use for SLM in automotive unless they needed to fab a part very quickly. More importantly, the reaction layer still needs to be finished down, so it seems to be a very big waste of time.

Even if it means they can get strange angles that a CNC machine would struggle with - but lets be fair here, angles and what not are only limited by length of the bur and the shape of the cutting area. - so unless it was like a swirly straw, there isn’t much that a regular milling machine can’t do that an SLM machine can.

But even more crazy is the fact that even if you needed a part like a swirly straw, how the heck are you going to finish the inside surface? still better to have it cut down the middle and arc welded - which then still means going with a CNC machine is better.

Also from a production stand point, I can swap out a spindle and chuck all day long. If the laser isn’t calibrated or something happens - it’s not like “back up repair parts” are as easily procured / re-installed as in an “advanced rotary machine” aka CNC milling machine.