Over the past two years, many initiatives have taken place at an institutional, industrial, and academic level to bring manufacturing back to the US through 3D printing technologies. There has also been an escalation both in the scope and in the substance of these projects. US President Barack Obama revealed the latest such initiative at a talk taking place a Techmer PM (a polymer modifier producer) in Clinton, Tennessee. There, he announced a $259 million advanced manufacturing project led by the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
To make the point even clearer, Obama took to the stage next to a spectacular, 3D printed Shelby Cobra, which combined, within itself, the skills from Oak Ridge researchers, the University’s engineering students, as well as the advanced composite materials made by Techmer and the surface finishes provided by a company called True Design.
Alex Roschli and Andrew Messing, both seniors in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UT’s College of Engineering, are interns at ORNL, where the car was printed at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. Roschli worked on printing and assembling components of the car and fitting them with the body, while Messing developed the software that communicates to the printer how to make various parts.
David K. “Butch” Irick, research assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, oversaw the team and helped with the development of the car’s powertrain. Rick also oversees the University’s EcoCAR projects for sustainable mobility. “Many of the technologies our students have worked on in the EcoCAR projects are integrated into the vehicle,” said Irick. “However, incorporating additive manufacturing technology at the vehicle scale certainly demonstrates the potential for that technology to become mainstream.”
We have seen a number of 3D printed car projects emerge over the past year. And functional car prototypes are now almost entirely made of 3D printed – or 3D printing derived – components. The Cobra, though, is a perfect example of what can be achieved when different institutions work together in an advanced manufacturing hub. The car was 3D printed with advanced composites that cut its weight in half while improving performance and safety, with a motor powered by wide-bandgap power electronics that are more efficient and less expensive than traditional silicon technologies and can be charged wirelessly. It was developed and produced by six people in just six weeks.
“This type of manufacturing capabilities is exactly what we want to help establish throughout the United States with a network a advanced manufacturing hubs,” Obama stated, showing a clear understanding of what additive manufacturing can help to achieve in a modern industry.
“Oak Ridge created the design and provided the manufacturing processes, while Techmer supplied the composite materials and True Surface developed the advanced finishing technique,” Obama explained. “Then the students at UT worked on the project and that helped them gain the skill necessary for future endeavors. More partners chipped in to create an ecosystem which is also a magnet for other who want to participate.”
“Congress and I are working together on this,” he assured, “as we are all interested in making sure that advanced manufacturing will be taking place here in the United States.” Ever since the now famous State of the Union address in 2012, when he first mentioned 3D printing as a way to jumpstart the US manufacturing industry and economy, Obama has never been afraid to show off his fascination for advanced digital manufacturing, especially of the additive kind. Hearing about the upcoming AM revolution straight from the President does make it feel a lot more real, so here is the entire speech (with the mention of 3D printing beginning at 1:17).