Automotive 3D printing is not new to BigRep, but recently the company got creative with the technology to demonstrate that industrial, functional 3D printing and artistic design are not mutually exclusive. BigRep Product Designer Marco Mattia Cristofori came up with an idea that showcases 3D printing’s industrial capabilities as well as its potential for original, eye-catching design. He decided to create a wheel rim as an example of the melding of the functional and the creative.
As preparation for the project, Cristofori looked at wheel rims and hubcaps and decided that he could get more creative than what most cars typically sport on their tires. While CNC machining is a common method of prototyping wheel rims, Cristofori wanted to use large-scale 3D printing instead – obviously, as large-scale 3D printing is BigRep’s specialty. In the US in particular, people love to customize things, and that includes wheel rims, but customization of these types of items tends to be expensive and time-consuming. With 3D printing, that doesn’t have to be the case.
“With 3D printing you can prototype organic forms, like with our Terra chair,” said Cristofori. “It allows you to envision more complex shapes, because you don’t really have any limits.”
Cristofori’s design is an intricate one that, if looked at one way, resembles lace or a flower. It is formed of several interlocking Y-shapes that not only give it its mesmerizing appearance but also serve to add stability to the rim. It’s an unusual design; the convention is to have just one layer or line on a wheel rim or hubcap, but Cristofori’s design goes beyond convention.
The dimensions of a wheel rim must be perfect, so 3D printing can be used to verify assembly and final production methods, to adjust a little at a time until a perfect fit is achieved.
The wheel rim was 3D printed on the BigRep STUDIO 3D printer, which was developed as a slightly smaller version of the massive BigRep ONE. According to Cristofori, however, a similar level of detail and precision is also possible on the BigRep ONE thanks to the new Power Extruder. The rim was 3D printed using the high temperature resistant filament PRO HT, making it strong enough to withstand a variety of tests.
“What we’ve developed here is a true-to-life model that can be powder coated,” Cristofori said. “We are planning to Meta-Coat one of them, to see how it looks as a more final product with a highly professional effect.”
The 3D printed wheel rims are not quite strong enough to be fully functional as a final part; metal casting is typically used for rims. The same design principles can be applied to hubcaps, however, which could be 3D printed in plastic and then coated to achieve a metallic effect. For the rims, 3D printing proved to be an excellent technique for prototyping, though, allowing Cristofori to create a complex design and quickly iterate it until he achieved a perfect fit, as well as to put it through a series of tests. The result is a more creative rim design than you would typically see on most cars, one that only could have been achieved with 3D design and 3D printing.
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