Jim Kor is printing a car.
Kor, an engineer and entrepreneur from Winnipeg, Manitoba, has designed a two-passenger hybrid car of the future dubbed the Urbee. The ultra-sleek three-wheel vehicle will have a metal internal combustion engine, electric motor and frame.
But Kor is printing out the body in plastic, piece by piece, in Eden Prairie at RedEye, a business that uses three-dimensional printers to produce parts and prototypes on demand, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
Kor used RedEye a few years ago to create the prototype for Urbee, but he's worked out the bugs since then and now says he's ready to go into actual production.
But instead of assembling his Urbees on a Henry Ford-style assembly line the way cars have been made for more than 100 years, Kor wants to print his cars.
It's not a gimmick. He says the only way he can create the Urbee body is with 3D printers, which create objects that are impossible with conventional manufacturing.
For instance, instead of using sheet metal with a uniform thickness, he can create large, intricate pieces that vary in thickness as needed to strengthen and lighten the car.
He compared it to the way nature has designed the bones of birds -- they are extremely lightweight yet strong, without a smidge of extra material.
"The process has the potential to put the material exactly where you want it and not put it where you don't want it," he said. "Conventional cars carry around a lot of extra weight."
The capabilities of 3D printing also freed Kor to radically rethink the car's design: His Urbee will be made using only about 50 large pieces, some of which are deceptively intricate.
Take the bumper. RedEye had one incubating last week inside one of its top-of-the-line Fortus printers made by Stratasys, a maker of 3D printers and RedEye's parent.
From the outside, it looks any bumper, but inside, Kor included ductwork for both the dashboard and the rest of the car.
The ability to print out a bumper with ductwork allowed Kor to attach the windshield and dash directly to the bumper, which helped make it more aerodynamic than a Toyota Prius, with half the weight and rolling resistance, he said.
It also eliminated parts. Lots of parts.
"Take a car apart and put all the parts on the floor," Kor suggested. "For just the dashboard, there must be thousands!"
Using the unique capabilities of 3D printing, you can make a lot of those tiny individual parts into one unified piece, he said. The Urbee's car body will be assembled from about 50 separate parts, total.
"The surprise to us is that there are very few car parts in this. We didn't start out that way," Kor said.
Designing a printed-out car may initially be more expensive, but it could become an advantage if large-scale production gets under way, Kor said.
The technology of 3D printing continues to get better and less expensive, he said. The cost of printing out a relative handful of parts eventually could drop below the cost of manufacturing requiring thousands of individual parts be made and then assembled, he said.
Three-dimensional printing opens up the vision of the designer, said Jeff Hanson, business development manager for RedEye.
What you can make -- and how you make it -- is limited only by your imagination, he said.
At Kor Ecologic, when we design a product, we try to make the design fit our idea of the way things should be.
The Urbee design team had a vision. That vision was written out and posted on the walls of our shop. It is the fundamental design ideals we followed in working on the Urbee Car Project.
- Use the least amount of energy possible for every kilometre traveled.
- Cause as little pollution as possible during manufacturing, operation and recycling of the car.
- Use materials available as close as possible to where the car is built.
- Use materials that can be recycled again and again.
- Use parts and materials that last as long as possible.
- Be simple to understand, build, and repair.
- Be as safe as possible to drive.
- Meet the standards and regulations applicable to traditional cars.
- Be buildable in small quantities so we don't have to wait for it to become more widely accepted before we can begin manufacturing it for the public.
- Be mass-producable so it can be built more economically once it becomes more widely accepted.
- Be affordable.
- Be visually appealing.