http://my.chicagotribune.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-81301287/ wrote: Alejandra Cancino, Tribune reporter
7:55 pm, September 8, 2014
Tucked in a corner inside McCormick Place engineers from two companies and a national laboratory are furiously working on the final days of a challenge to make, assemble and drive a 3-D printed car on Saturday.
The self-imposed challenge showcases the technology of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, machine-maker Cincinnati Inc. and Local Motors, a vehicle-maker based in Phoenix.
Until now, 3-D printing has been used in a small scale to make parts, household items or toys. Their technology, which has cost each more than $1 million, would finally bring 3-D printing to the floor of industrial firms, mainly because of its size, they said.
The car is being printed on a machine that is about 6.5 feet wide and 16 feet long, or about the size of a container in the back of truck. By comparison, most of the 3-D printing machines in the market fit on a desk.
The machine is fed tiny pellets of plastic mixed with carbon fiber. The pellets melt and come out like soft serve ice cream, forming a string about the size of cable wire. The layers are stacked together and pressed hard enough to glue them, but not break them or deform them. In total, it will take more than 200 layers to make the body of the electric car.
Lonnie Love, a research engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said he envisions the technology being used initially by tool and die makers and later by companies that make planes, cars and other products.
Love said he’s been working on the technology for about two years. It started with a partnership with defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which owned the part of the machine that is fed the pellets and spits out the molten material. Lockheed Martin had attached the part to a robotic arm, but it wasn’t working.
The laboratory attached it to one of its 3-D printing machines. It was an improvement, but the material warped and folded in like a potato chip, Love said. The engineers at the laboratory continued to work on the technology, finding the right material to work with, the right temperatures and the precise amount of pressure needed to glue the layers together.
This winter the lab partnered with Cincinnati to take the technology to market. Together, they outfitted a laser-cutting machine with the 3-D technology.
At the same time, Local Motors was looking to make a 3-D printed car and gave them a challenge and deadline: make a car during the International Manufacturing Technology Show, or IMTS, which begins on Monday and ends on Saturday.
Machine makers get to showcase their products at IMTS, which is held every two years in Chicago. It’s like a giant showroom filled with computer-run machines, some as big as a studio apartment, that make the parts that go into cars, tractors, combines, etc.
Rick Neff, a marketing manager at Cincinnati, said the show allows the company to hear how its customers would use the technology as they continue to improve it.
“We can sit around in our offices and imagine it,” Neff said. But, he added, getting out really allows the company to understand the market.
Cincinnati already sold one of its two machines, both prototypes, to a plastics manufacturer that Neff said wants to research how its products could be used by the technology. The idea, he added, is for the company to offer a complete library of materials once Cincinnati starts selling the machines.
As Saturday inches closer, engineers have been working around the clock to make final improvements to the machine. For example, just last week, Andrew Messing, the engineer behind the code that slices the design and tells the computer how to lay it out, wrote a piece of code that makes a part swirl to cut off the molten material from what’s already been printed. That prevented engineers from having to get in with chisels to manually cut it.
After the body of the car is printed, it will then be smoothed out on a machine that cuts the excess material. Then, it will be assembled with tires, lights, fenders, seats, etc. Other companies in the show made some of those parts via traditional manufacturing methods.
For John “Jay” Rogers, chief executive and founder of Local Motors, the challenge means a step closer to changing the automobile industry to one that is less reliant on oil. The sports car will be made in 44 hours with just 40 parts.
On Monday, the company said it will weigh about 1,200 pounds and will reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
“It will change the way we move,” Rogers said.
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