Our recent article about Vital Auto’s use of 3D-printed additive manufacturing to build exotic show cars for a variety of OEMs got us wondering about some of the details of this process.
Vital Auto and its 3D printer supplier, Formlabs, have agreed to fill us in further with a Q&A that should provide even more insight into this work.
Our interviewees were Adam Hourigan, Technical Sales Engineer at Formalabs, and Shay Moradi, Vice President of Innovation and Experiential Technology at Vital Auto.
Design News: What exactly are the different materials used to print the different parts of a concept car and what are the properties of each?
Adam Hourigan: The Vital Auto team used multiple materials from Formlabs extensive material library to print a range of parts and to support design iteration, with SLA and SLS materials. On the SLS side, the team used Nylon 12 powder, a high-performance nylon material ideal for functional prototyping and small-batch production for its ability to withstand impact and absorb wear over time to create production quality parts, such as brake calipers and door handles. They also used SLA materials such as Draft Resin for its fast print times to prototype a variety of parts, including air vents. Flexible 80A, one of Formlabs newer resins, was used for parts that would otherwise be expensive to manufacture, such as door gaskets, to print sections overnight rather than over several days, for testing various geometries with extreme precision.
Design News: Which types of 3D printers are best suited for which types of parts?
Adam Hourigan: Vital Auto used Formlabs SLA and SLS 3D printers, each of which offers unique benefits to the design and production process. Using the Fuse 1 SLS printer saved two to four days of prototyping and testing, allowing the team to produce end-use parts for parts such as door hinges, handle interiors door panels, door interiors and other structural components in less than 24 hours. The Form 3L, an SLA printer, allowed Vital Auto to produce automotive parts with smooth finishes that could quickly be added to the vehicle as soon as they were printed.
Design News: How much time and money is saved by building concept cars this way rather than the old-fashioned way?
Adam Hourigan: Thanks to 3D printing, Vital Auto has been able to produce hundreds of parts with different geometries faster and cheaper than ever before. The low cost per part allows Vital Auto to quickly create prototypes and end-use parts that bring new designs to market more efficiently and affordably.
Design News: Do these tools actually allow concept cars to incorporate features that couldn’t be done the traditional way?
Compared to slow and expensive traditional production methods like CNC milling, Formlabs printers have allowed Vital Auto to print more parts and deliver new design concepts faster and at lower cost. With 3D printing, the team at Vital Auto can embark on greater design exploration while speeding up production time.
Design News: Which concept cars have been produced this way so far?
Shay Moradi: The Nio EP9 concept, Apex AP 0, Tata H2X, Naran and Royal Enfield KX100 among others.
Design News: Which component or detail was the hardest to create or is it the object you are most proud of?
Shay Moradi: We pretend without pretending. Understanding, imagining and creating sometimes puts you in the space to work on really complex projects or abstract things. For example, how can we use lighting to convey emotion? How to humanize a machine? We use ambitious design studies to explore these types of work. We wanted to bring emotion into a lighting program. E-heart by Pininfarina Battista is a perfect example of interpreting and expanding design intent with creative electronics. Bringing functional jewelry to life.
Design News: Are the resulting concept cars better/lighter/less fragile?
Shay Moradi: 3D printing gives us a greater opportunity to fill the timeline with more design iterations, things that are impossible to manufacture in condensed timelines with fewer resources are suddenly possible. It expands the creative appetite as much as the iteration space.