As the first generation of 3D print pioneers establishes themselves, a younger upcoming generation looks to them for support and guidance. To help support this process, the faculty at the Zheijang University of Technology (ZJUT), located in Hangzhou, China developed an alumni mentoring program that calls upon 13 of their distinguished graduates to come back and mentor 42 of their current mechanics majors. For their first undertaking, the folks from Shining 3D worked with ZJUT’s students to create custom pieces for their racing team’s car. The manufacturing process of choice was, of course, 3D printing.
Shining 3D was founded in 2004 by graduates of ZJUT, considered to be one of the top industrial universities in Mainland China. The company has since then been awarded numerous patents and been recognized by both private and governmental agencies for their contributions to 3D technology. Shining 3D provides equipment and software for 3D printing, 3D scanning, and laser engraving for education, biomedical, aerospace, and other sectors of the global market. They consider their interface with education to be an important aspect not just in terms of the current market, but also in as much as students are the future producers and consumers of 3D technologies.
For the racecar project undertaken with ZJUT, the first lesson revolved around the creation of a customized steering wheel. It is extremely important when creating a race car that the steering wheel fit the driver’s hands perfectly. The closer to an absolute match that can be obtained on the steering wheel, the better as it reduces the stress of holding on and therefore any pain or exhaustion that might occur as a result. In order to create the wheel, the team first obtained a mold of the driver’s grip. This was done by having the driver press his fingers into a handful of plasticine and then 3D scanning the result. That digital model was then used to print out the customized grip for install in the steering wheel.
The student/mentor team also used 3D printing to create the front section of the race car itself. The first step to doing this was the create the digital model that followed the contour and created the desired form. Afterwards, it was printed out on an industrial 3D printer and then subjected to a finishing process before being left to harden. Once the hardening was complete, the molded piece was sufficiently strong to undergo the final finishing process. The 3D printed mold was then covered with a layer of wax to which several layers of tailored carbon fiber fabric were applied. After each layer of carbon fiber fabric was applied, it was painted with an epoxy resin to set it into the form. Finally, the entire racing car head was placed inside of a vacuum bag and the air was removed from inside the bag, conforming to the desired shape. The racing head was left to cure for 24 hours after which it was ready for installation on the car.
The result of this interaction between practiced experts and students was a car that was created without any existing mold, something that saved the team both time and money, as well as a deeper understanding of the ways in which 3D printing technologies can be applied to addressing problems in design and fabrication. Student racing teams are increasingly seeing 3D printing help take their cars to the finish line.
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