EDAG Evolves the 3D-Printed Car Concept
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on May 03, 2016 |
A German engineering firm reinvents the 3D-printed car year after year.

When perusing a home goods store, it’s interesting to think how just about every product will take on an entirely new aesthetic once 3D printing is implemented for the manufacturing of the majority of everyday items. 

Of course, if that day ever comes, shopping at a home goods store might be replaced with e-commerce and the on-demand 3D printing of those items at home. But the way that additive manufacturing will change the way that ordinary products are designed will see us changing our basic thinking about the way our goods ought to look, replacing solid objects with lattice structures, biologically inspired meshes and other topologies only possible with 3D printing. 

This new design thinking becomes that much more significant when applied, not to house goods, but to big-ticket items, like automobiles.


3D Printing a Car with Massive Stereolithography

EDAG Engineering has a firm understanding of the ways that additive manufacturing will change the way we look at automobile design. Already well known for their often-stunning concept cars, the German company began to demonstrate the potential of 3D printing for vehicle production in 2014, 3D printing the body of an entire car in one piece for the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland. Though it was just the body, with no wheels or motor or anything that would actually make the car go, the EDAG Genesis concept would lay the foundation for a new compact sports car dubbed the “Light Cocoon,” a 3D-printed auto that would literally light up the showroom floor.

The Light Cocoon features a 3D-printed shell and partially 3D-printed frame. (Image courtesy of EDAG.)
The Light Cocoon features a 3D-printed shell and partially 3D-printed frame. (Image courtesy of EDAG.)

The EDAG Light Cocoon made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015, where the car demonstrated its 3D-printed lightweight body inspired by biological systems. 3D printing is featured in two major aspects of the construction of this car: the body and the frame of the automobile.

The shell of the Light Cocoon was 3D printed with robotmech’s large-scale stereolithography systems. (Image courtesy of EDAG/YouTube.)
The shell of the Light Cocoon was 3D printed with robotmech’s large-scale stereolithography systems. (Image courtesy of EDAG/YouTube.)

In terms of the car body itself, large structural components for the vehicle were 3D printed by robotmech, a German service bureau that has engineered their own fleet of large-scale stereolithography 3D printers. 

robotmech’s enormous SL-Tool eagle series HD systems are capable of 3D printing objects up to 2 x 1 x 1 m (6.6 x 3.3 x 3.3 ft) in size, allowing EDAG to manufacture the shell of the car in large pieces and, due to the ability of 3D-printing technology to create complex shapes, with only the material necessary to provide the proper support. This resulted in an overall body resembling the branches of a tree or a spider web.


A New Type of 3D-Printed Car

For the frame of the body, the Light Cocoon features metal bodywork nodes, 3D printed by Concept Laser, that allow the vehicle to be reconfigured into a variety of shapes. 

Further strengthening the on-demand production made possible with 3D printing, several companies involved in the project—EDAG, Laser Zentrum Nord, Concept Laser and the BLM Group—developed what they call the NextGenspaceframe, which combines a variety of metalworking technologies from each of the partners to create a new hybrid platform for automobile assembly. 

To build the frame of the car, steel profiles are manufactured using 3D bending and 2D and 3D laser-cutting techniques from the BLM Group.


The NextGenspaceframe features 3D-printed nodes that connect the steel beams of the car’s frame. (Image courtesy of EDAG.)
The NextGenspaceframe features 3D-printed nodes that connect the steel beams of the car’s frame. (Image courtesy of EDAG.)

These steel beams are then connected to one another through custom nodes 3D printed by Concept Laser. The nodes, in this case, were 3D printed on Concept Laser’s massive X line 1000R LaserCUSING machine, which fires a 1-kW laser at metal powders to build objects up to 630 x 400 x 500 mm3 in size. 

In cases that larger or a greater number of items need to be 3D printed, Concept Laser recently unveiled their X line 2000R system, which features two 1-kW lasers and a build volume of 800 x 400 x 500 mm3. Finally, the connections are laser welded together by Laser Zentrum Nord.

EDAG and its partners believe that the NextGenspaceframe can be custommade ondemand for each individual vehicle. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)
EDAG and its partners believe that the NextGenspaceframe can be custom made on demand for each individual vehicle. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)

As complex as this process may be, the partners suggest that it can be highly automated, so that a vehicle might be additively manufactured on demand. For parts or projects that need to carry heavier loads, stiffening elements can be added or subtracted as required. 

In turn, every frame made with this technique can be optimized for weight and strength. Combined with the 3D-printed shell of the car, it’s possible that vehicles can be 3D printed with a custom frame and body individually with every product run.

EDAG pointed out, in the construction of the Light Cocoon car, that “no matter how light and protective this stable structure might be, it would be unsuitable for road use for the simple reason that it is not weather resistant.” 

The 3D-printed portion of the vehicle is certainly exciting for the prospects of on-demand manufacturing, but EDAG’s solution to the issue of weather resistance is no less interesting. To address the problem, the company teamed with outdoor apparel makers Jack Wolfskin to create a weatherproof cover that stretches around the body of the car. 

Weighing only 19 grams per square meter, Jack Wolfskin’s TexaporeSoftshell is made up of a polyurethane sheet with a jersey lining. Not only is it waterproof and windproof, but it is translucent enough to let a series of brilliant lights lining the car to shine through.


Combining IoT with 3D-Printed Cars

Since the development of the Light Cocoon, EDAG has evolved the project even further with their most recent concept, the Soulmate, created in conjunction with German electronics and engineering company Bosch. 

The latest design includes the same 3D-printing technologies to create the overall shape of the car, a 3D-printed shell with a NextGenspaceframe, but adds a 3D-printed housing for the electric-powered Soulmate’s on-board charger, as well as a 3D-printed headlight. The housing has great cooling capacity due to its lightweight, 3D-printed shape, made from selective laser-melting technology.

The Soulmate adds IoT capabilities to their 3D-printed car concept. (Image courtesy of EDAG.)
The Soulmate adds IoT capabilities to their 3D-printed car concept. (Image courtesy of EDAG.)

In addition to a heavy use of additive manufacturing, the Soulmate also demonstrates a number of new technologies likely to be standard on tomorrow’s breed of personal transportation, including autonomous driving. 

EDAG and Bosch envision the car as being a “personal companion” for the driver, with the center console and dashboard together in a single electronic display that will be connected to the driver’s home across the Internet of Things (IoT). Access to one’s personal calendar will allow the Soulmate to know where to go for a specific meeting and change routes mid-course, in the case that a meeting is cancelled.

The housing for the Soulmate’s on-board battery charger was 3D printed to reduce weight. (Image courtesy of EDAG.)
The housing for the Soulmate’s on-board battery charger was 3D printed to reduce weight. (Image courtesy of EDAG.)

To ensure greater safety for the driver, or should we say “user,” of the autonomous vehicle, the display features Bosch’s “neoSense” haptic touchscreen, which creates virtual buttons through haptic feedback. 

This way, the driver can focus their eyes on the road and can feel their way around the console. Complementing the haptic display is gesture control for some features, further eliminating the need to take one’s eyes off the road.

The IoT-connected autonomous vehicle shifts its route depending on one’s schedule. (Image courtesy of EDAG/YouTube.)
The IoT-connected autonomous vehicle shifts its route depending on one’s schedule. (Image courtesy of EDAG/YouTube.)

Other safety features include built-in sensors for built-in electronic awareness of objects in a driver’s blind spot. In turn, both the inside and outside of the car can light up depending on what’s going on in the environment. 

For instance, the interior trim will flash red corresponding to an obstacle near a certain side of the car, while the exterior might illuminate to warn other drivers of an approaching hazard, traffic jam or biker.

Unlike, say, Bentley’s vision of a holographic butler for their vehicle of the future or BMW’s hypothetical 4D-printed concept, EDAG and its partners have gone a long way to exhibit vehicles that might actually be produced sooner, rather than later. 

As 3D-printing auto manufacturer Local Motors preps to send 3D-printed roadsters out onto highways in 2017, EDAG is proving that a 3D-printed vehicle line need not be limited to one style or even one brand and that the streets of the future may be populated by all sorts of 3D-printed cars. This does beg the question, however, with all of these concepts for the personal vehicles of tomorrow, what about 3D-printed public transportation?

Recommended For You