Italian company X Electrical Vehicle (XEV) says its 3D-printed electric car, the LSEV, is just about ready for production, which will start at the end of 2018. The first 3D-printed low-speed electric vehicle (LSEV) car is now being demonstrated at Shanghai’s China 3D Printing Cultural Museum (Figs. 1, 2, and 3).

1. LSEV 3D-printed car (side view).

2. LSEV 3D-printed car (front view).

3. LSEV 3D-printed car (rear view).

Claiming that a car is produced with 3D printing is not exactly true. Of course, you can’t build a car completely with a 3D printer. 3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing (see note at end of article) that lends itself to one-of-a-kind chassis parts, plastic interior components, and even certain metal engine parts. However, 3D printing the wheels, tires, brakes, and other critical parts doesn’t make a lot of practical sense. Actually, a “3D-printed car” is one with some 3D-printed parts and some traditionally manufactured parts. What’s available today offers a glimpse at the possible future of automobile production.

The XEV car exhibition at Auto China 2018 in Beijing will allow attendees to get the chance to see the company’s almost entirely 3D-printed electric vehicle. Apart from the chassis, seats, and glass, all visible parts of the car are 3D-printed.

The quick time-to-market for the LSEV car is mostly thanks to 3D printing. By using additive-manufacturing technologies, XEV work is done at a fast rate. In the design, XEV consolidated the amount of plastic parts in an LSEV from 2,000 to just 57. Doors, bumpers, and window housings, as well as most other visible parts (except those mentioned above), are 3D-printed in fused filament fabrication (FFF) using Polymaker material. The resulting vehicle weighs 450 kilograms, and reduces typical production by about 70%, taking around three days to complete both interior and exterior components. Figure 4 shows the construction of the car.

4. Construction of the LSEV showing the 3D-printed components.

Poste Italiane, the Italian postal, communication, logistics, and financial services company, has reportedly made an order for 5,000 cars, and ARVAL, a vehicle leasing branch of BNP Paribas, has ordered 2,000.

“The research and development process of a car model conventionally takes between three to five years, but 3D-printed cars like XEV only take between three months to 12 months,” explains Luo Xiaofan, founder and CEO of Polymaker, a Shanghai-based technology company responsible for material R&D for making the 3D-printed electric vehicle.

3D-printer filament manufacturer Polymaker partnered with XEV to make the 3D-printed LSEVs. While XEV’s LSEVs aren’t the first-ever 3D-printed cars, the partners believe that this is the first example of additive-manufacturing vehicles at scale.

Stanley Lu, CEO of XEV, provided more information on the Polymaker partnership and its success in developing a serial 3D-printing production line that cuts down the time and boosts customization of the everyday car. The vision for XEV’s LSEVs, according to Lu, is that, “The car will be more beautiful because you can go beyond of the limit of traditional manufacturing.” He adds, “It actually gives freedom to the style and creativity of designing, and then you can have a lot of variations. And in a short time, we can create a large range on the production line.”

Commenting on the production process, Lu explains, “Each of our 3D-printing machines can extrude 25 kg of material per day. That is about 10 times faster than the other industrial 3D printers.” With this process, XEV and Polymaker are planning to “change the way the industry makes cars today. We are making manufacturing as a platform, which means one machine can build unlimited shapes, unlimited parts,” explains Lu, “You don’t need to change the machine to make different parts.”

Polymaker’s contribution to the project has ensured that materials to make the LSEVs are road safe. “Requirement is very tough,” adds Lu “since maybe you need to drive the car from a place in 40°C to another place in −30℃.” It’s also hoped that the process will be rolled out for the fabrication of other end-use production.

JAC Motors is the owner of XEV. The Chinese state-owned automobile and commercial vehicle manufacturer separately has a joint venture to make electric vehicles with VW.

“During last 20 years, we had a very complicated and painful process to make a car from research to manufacturing,” explains Lu, “So we are always looking for a solution that can let us go away from this complicated, painful, and costly process. And in the end, we found that 3D printing is the only solution, and the only way out.”

More 3D Cars

Other examples of 3D-printed electric vehicles include the Noah concept car and the Olli bus made by Local Motors.

3D printing has been used in the development of Noah, the “world’s first circular car.” The 2018 product of a longstanding project at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU Eindhoven), Noah is an electric car built as a demonstration of future, greener car manufacturing.

Noah was created by the university’s TU/Ecomotive team. As a proof of concept, prototype components for the vehicle have been 3D-printed in collaboration with Oceanz, a professional 3D-printing service and supplier in the Netherlands.

5. A sample 3D-printed biocomposite panel that will be used to make Noah’s chassis.

Noah’s chassis will be built with panels made of a honeycomb PLA/flax sandwich. Together, the plastics make a biocomposite material, meaning that it can still be fully recycled when the car is no longer usable (Fig. 5).

Additionally, the body and interior of the car will be made from bio-based materials. In total, around 90% of the materials used to make Noah will be sustainably sourced.

When completed, Noah will weigh 350 kilograms. At top speed, it will be able to reach 100 km/h (62 mph). On a single charge, the batteries will have a range of around 240 km (149 miles).

Oceanz EcoPowder, in an EOSINT P 760 system, was used to make some of Noah’s 3D-printed concept parts. By using additive manufacturing, the TU/Ecomotive team also cuts down on the amount of material wastage in comparison with traditional prototyping techniques, like milling. The EOSINT P 760 is a laser sintering industrial printer developed by EOS. This 3D-printing technique uses a fiber laser to melt and fuse fine plastic powder. Layer after layer, the 3D object is built. It has a large build volume of 700 × 380 × 580 mm.

Frank Elbersen, sales engineer at Oceanz, comments, “3D printing contributes to a very sustainable production technique.

“With this group of students we are faced with a new era. We like to work with these trendsetters. With their knowledge, we will be able to inform our customers further.”

At large car manufacturers, 3D printing is predominantly used in trial, spare parts, and repair initiatives. Recently, Mercedes-Benz Trucks unveiled its first metal 3D-printed replacement parts.

Other companies also cite the technology in the development of their plans for future autonomous vehicles.

The next stage for the TU/Ecomotive is to get Noah a license plate and prove that it is road safe. By July 2018, the eco-friendly two-seater should be able to hit the road.

Local Motors

Car manufacturer Local Motors has revealed that it’s currently 3D printing an autonomous vehicle, the Olli, at its micro-factory in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The driverless vehicle has already begun trials in Germany as part of a collaboration with Deutsche Bahn, and has been designed to autonomously transport small groups of passengers around an urban environment. The German trial is taking place in Berlin to transport passengers from work to the nearest Deutsche Bahn rail station.

Local Motors says it “is making history this week by “printing” it’s first Olli self-driving shuttle in the company’s Knoxville micro-factory. Local Motors is known for its 3D-printed car production in the past, which has also incorporated drones.

The company is not just using the production method as some kind of gimmick. By implementing 3D printing as the means for production, Local Motors can modify the design depending on the customer, while providing a rapid and sustainable production process.

6. The Olli vehicle 3D-printed on a Cincinnati machine. (Courtesy of Local Motors)

Los Angeles company Divergent3D is similarly addressing the automotive market with 3D-printed production  (Fig.6). Cincinnati Incorporated, in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has developed the world’s first industrial-size 3D printer, taking additive manufacturing to a large scale.

Local Motors compares its manufacturing process to more conventional automobile manufacturing to demonstrate how the method enables flexible design. To produce cars traditionally on a mass scale, automotive companies are required to invest heavily in tooling and production facilities, especially for one specific car design. This doesn’t allow for flexibility in design, which means the company is forced to approach production with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Figure 7 shows the prototype vehicle.

7. The Local Motors team testing the Olli shuttle out for size. (Courtesy of Local Motors)

Of course, one size doesn’t always fit all in terms of car design, but the Olli can be redesigned for specific customers or functions. Of course, one size doesn’t always fit all in terms of car design. If a University campus wants a different vehicle design, Local Motors can redesign Olli for specific customers or functions.

Note

Additive manufacturing (AM) is an appropriate name to describe the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, concrete, or one day…..human tissue. Common to AM technologies is the use of a computer, 3D modeling software (computer-aided design or CAD), machine equipment, and layering material. Once a CAD sketch is produced, the AM equipment reads in data from the CAD file and lays down or adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material, or other material in a layer-upon-layer fashion to fabricate a 3D object.