Picture an assembly line not that isn’t made up of robotic arms spewing sparks to weld heavy steel, but a warehouse of plastic-spraying printers producing light, cheap and highly efficient automobiles. If Jim Kor’s dream is realized, that’s exactly how the next generation of urban runabouts will be produced.
His creation is called the Urbee 2 and it could revolutionize parts manufacturing while creating a cottage industry of small-batch automakers intent on challenging the status quo. Urbee’s approach to maximum miles per gallon starts with lightweight construction — something that 3-D printing is particularly well suited for. The designers were able to focus more on the optimal automobile physics, rather than working to install a hyper efficient motor in a heavy steel-body automobile. As the Urbee shows, making a car with this technology has a slew of beneficial side effects.Jim Kor is the engineering brains behind the Urbee.
He’s designed tractors, buses, even commercial swimming pools. Between teaching classes, he heads Kor Ecologic, the firm responsible for the 3-D printed creation.”We thought long and hard about doing a second one,” he says of the Urbee. “It’s been the right move.”Kor and his team built the three-wheel, two-passenger vehicle at RedEye, an on-demand 3-D printing facility. The printers he uses create ABS plastic via Fused Deposition Modeling FDM. The printer sprays molten polymer to build the chassis layer by microscopic layer until it arrives at the complete object. The machines are so automated that the building process they perform is known as “lights out” construction, meaning Kor uploads the design for a bumper, walk away, shut off the lights and leaves. A few hundred hours later, he’s got a bumper. The whole car — which is about 10 feet long — takes about 2,500 hours.
… the current model has a curb weight of just 1,200 pounds. To further remedy the issues caused by modern car-construction techniques, Kor used the design freedom of 3-D printing to combine a typical car’s multitude of parts into simple unibody shapes. For example, when he prints the car’s dashboard, he’ll make it with the ducts already attached without the need for joints and connecting parts. What would be dozens of pieces of plastic and metal end up being one piece of 3-D printed plastic.
In early 1903, physician and car enthusiast Horatio Nelson Jackson accepted a $50 bet that he could not cross the United States by car. Just a few weeks later, on May 23, he and mechanic Sewall K. Crocker climbed into a 20-hp Winton in San Francisco and headed east. Accompanied by Bud, a pit bull they picked up along the way, the two men arrived in New York 63 days, 12 hours, and 800 gallons of fuel later, completing the nation’s first cross-country drive.
About two years from now, Cody and Tyler Kor, now 20 and 22 years old, respectively, will drive coast-to-coast in the lozenge-shaped Urbee 2, a car made mostly by 3D printing. Like Jackson and Crocker, the young men will take a dog along for the ride—Cupid, their collie and blue heeler mix. Unlike Jackson and Crocker, they will spend just 10 gallons of fuel to complete the trip from New York to San Francisco. Then they will refuel, turn around, and follow the same west-to-east route taken by Jackson, Crocker, and Bud.