3D/4D Printing/Safety Precautions.

Tesla’s stealthy 3D Printing revolution in electric Car manufacturing.

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In the bustling world of electric car manufacturing, Tesla has always been at the forefront of innovation. While they’ve consistently pushed boundaries with their electric vehicle (EV) technology, there’s something quietly groundbreaking happening behind the scenes—Tesla’s foray into 3D printing for car bodies. Elon Musk, the visionary CEO of Tesla, has a penchant for unconventional production methods. He champions what he calls “unboxed” production, assembling large sub-units of a car and seamlessly connecting them. This approach is in stark contrast to traditional car manufacturing, which involves hundreds of small, intricately assembled parts.

Tesla’s journey into unorthodox manufacturing began with “giga casting,” a technique where they use ultra-high-pressure presses to mold substantial parts of a car. They’ve been doing this long before other automakers even considered it. However, Tesla is now taking things up a notch by experimenting with colossal presses that can potentially cast the entire car body. The secret sauce in Tesla’s new manufacturing process lies in the fusion of 3D printing and industrial sand—a revelation from inside sources reported by Reuters. Although the specifics remain undisclosed, here’s how it works: Tesla creates a mold with 3D-printed solid sand cores inside. After the casting process is complete, the sand cores are removed, leaving behind a hollow subframe that provides structural integrity. This ingenious method offers Tesla significant flexibility in terms of cost, design alterations, and production speed, a luxury not afforded by traditional metal molds.

If successfully scaled up, this innovation could propel Tesla closer to Elon Musk’s ambitious goal of halving production costs. To put it in perspective, think of Apple’s unibody design for its laptops, where an entire product’s structure is machined from a single block of aluminum. This approach dramatically reduces assembly costs. Now, let’s dive into the numbers. To mold the front and rear structures of its Model Y, Tesla currently applies clamping pressures of 6,000 to 9,000 tons in its “gigacasting” process. Using this method, they can produce a Model Y in a mere 10 hours, nearly three times faster than their competitors. However, Tesla’s new technique would require even more substantial clamping pressures, estimated at 16,000 tons or more, demanding more factory space. This aligns with Tesla’s expansion plans, including doubling the size of its Berlin factory and establishing plants in India.

Traditionally, car manufacturing relies on around 400 parts, but Tesla’s “gigacasting” approach aims to replace these with a streamlined process. Additionally, Tesla has set its sights on launching an affordable EV priced at $25,000 by 2025. One remarkable aspect is the cost-effectiveness of this approach. Building a large-scale mold from scratch can cost a staggering $4 million, and making changes to an existing mold after initial testing can still set a company back $1.5 million. In contrast, Tesla could potentially develop a car from scratch using the new technique in just 18-24 months, a fraction of the 3-4 years most competitors require. While the identity of Tesla’s collaborators for this innovative endeavor remains undisclosed, they’ve previously worked with the IDRA Group for their existing processes. This historic machine manufacturer has been in operation for seven decades and has been crafting giga presses since 2015. Interestingly, IDRA was the only one among the world’s six major manufacturers to accept Musk’s request to create the massive casting machine required for Tesla’s cars.

As Tesla quietly pioneers the future of electric car manufacturing, we can only anticipate the ripple effect this revolution will have on the industry. They’re not just building cars; they’re transforming the way cars are made.

Pushing the limits, can 3D Print a combustion Engine?

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The world of 3D printing is a realm of boundless possibilities where innovative minds continuously challenge the limits of this transformative technology. One such pioneer is YouTuber Camden Bowen, who embarked on an extraordinary mission—to 3D print a combustion engine. While Bowen had prior experience crafting engines, they were pumps powered by compressed air. Creating a combustion engine, however, is a far more complex endeavor. It demands a machine that can operate as an autonomous air pump, where fuel— in this case, butane—plays a critical role. Like conventional piston engines, Bowen’s creation compresses a fuel-air mixture, ignites it, expels exhaust, and then intakes fresh fuel.

Yet, 3D printing a combustion engine from plastic presents a unique set of challenges. Certain inherent limitations of the technology must be acknowledged from the outset. For instance, the crankshaft, a vital component, couldn’t be fashioned from plastic. If such a feat were feasible, industry giants like Harbor Freight would have capitalized on it. Additionally, the flywheel required metal infusion to achieve the necessary weight and short segments of copper pipe were substituted for valve seats. Apart from these components, J-B Weld was among the few materials employed that didn’t originate from a 3D printer.

Despite initial ignition challenges, the results were a mixed bag. The engine emitted sporadic pops and bangs but failed to maintain continuous operation. While boasting substantial compression and a reliable ignition system, the Achilles’ heel appeared to be the fuel delivery system—an improvised butane lighter placed in front of the intake port. It’s essential to recognize that crafting a functional plastic engine, particularly one that endures the rigors of combustion, remains an audacious endeavor. The sheer power of internal combustion engines (ICE) underscores their complexity and resilience. These engines are designed to safely contain and harness the energy of controlled explosions within their cylinders. Even metal ICE engines in production vehicles have grappled with issues like cylinder head detachment due to combustion pressure. Some earlier 20th-century engines circumvented this problem by casting the cylinder head as an integral part of the block. The concept of a plastic engine, or even a sturdier injection-molded plastic version, enduring combustion forces for an extended period remains aspirational at best.

Nonetheless, Camden Bowen’s attempt serves as an informative and engaging exploration into the intricacies of internal combustion engines with the aid of 3D printing technology. It offers a unique opportunity to dissect the mechanics and principles that underpin engine functionality—a topic that fewer individuals seem inclined or equipped to delve into in-depth. While the journey may not have yielded a fully operational plastic engine, it undeniably underscores the fascinating potential and learning opportunities that 3D printing brings to engine technology.

Story by Peter Holderith. A 3D-Printed Combustion Engine Made of Plastic Works as You’d Expect.